Let’s get the moany bits, all the more relevant after the week that was in it, out of the way quickly.
Of course the Munster and Leinster finals should not be taking place on the same day. Hurling has only two of them. They shouldn’t have to share a stage, and that they did so in 1991 was due to the Tipperary/Cork replay in Thurles.
The game of the gods, as Seamus Leahy put it so lyrically in The Tipp Revival, although to many people it remains the Day of Yer Man in the Wheelchair.
Of course, fast-forwarding to next month, the All Ireland semi-finals should not be taking place on successive days. Hurling has only two of them. They shouldn’t have to share a weekend.
Granted, the scheduling of fixtures will be better thought out in 2019, not least because it’s now very publicly incumbent on the CCCC to up their game, but tomorrow’s double-header is annoying, nonetheless. After the extended phantasmagorical high of the inaugural round robins the comedown will be long and laborious right through to mid-August. Marketing hurling? Wha’?
Anyway. Comhghairdeas in advance to the victors in Thurles: they’ll have won the most hard-earned, richly-deserved Munster title of all time. Comhghairdeas, come to think of it, to both teams: Reaching the final was an achievement in itself.
Cork take the field unbeaten in their last seven matches in the province. It is an immense achievement, particularly for a group without the obvious big personalities of the 2004-05 team, and John Meyler deserves considerable credit for overseeing this season’s continued progress.
It wasn’t broke and he didn’t try to fix it.
Who’ll win? Impossible to call with confidence, but think of it this way: Three of tomorrow’s contestants — the Semple Stadium duo and Galway — will be playing their match on their terms. Kilkenny will be playing their match on their opponents’ terms. Cork and Clare at least have that much going for them.
What Cork also have going for them is their Stakhanovite scoring output from play. They are the kings of the point with wings, even more so than Galway, many of whose scores are sourced from breaking ball 30 metres out, with Conor Cooney snaffling the crumbs. Look at Cork’s figures: 2-17 against Clare, 1-20 against Tipperary, 1-17 against Limerick and 1-19 against Waterford. Clare’s reads as follows: 1-14 against Cork, 1-16 against Waterford, 1-10 against Tipperary 0-14 and against Limerick. Not nearly as impressive and rather more dependent on Peter Duggan bulking out their total by doing his thing from placed balls.
The challengers may need three goals. They frequently come within an ace of hitting three goals, but for a slightly overcooked pass here, a marginally underdone assist there. One of these days they’ll hit three goals. Probably at Croke Park in an All-Ireland semi-final.
To debug the machine post-Davy was a process that was never going to be achieved in one season. Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor can take pride from the fact that they’re well on the way there midway through season two.
Ian Galvin’s goal against Tipp wasn’t so much a goal as it was a trumpet blast of freedom. Clare swept downfield, they didn’t overthink matters, had a sufficiency of players committed to the attack and went for it with simple, sweeping, joyous abandon. It was a goal they would not and could not have scored last year or the year before.
Serendipity has been an ally too. Two games, a weekend off, a match against a tired Tipperary, a match against a tiring Limerick. They couldn’t have arranged it better themselves. Clearly, they’re not 11 points better than Limerick. Clearly, they wouldn’t dream of claiming they are.
Nor will they repeat the mistakes of last year’s Munster final, shooting from a mile out instead of making the ball drop short or getting themselves worked up over Anthony Nash: Paralysis by puckout over-analysis. Sometimes, you’ve got to let go and trust your players to have a cut. Moloney and O’Connor are. It would, nonetheless, be interesting to discover the extent to which, as claimed, the players are driving the bus themselves. They’re certainly old enough, and at this stage hungry enough on the back of those unfulfilled summers, to be doing so.
Jamie Shanahan’s long predicted blooming is taking place at last. Colm Galvin is passing the bullets to a more coherent forward line than he was a couple of years ago. John Conlon is precisely the type of burly, bristling forward Cork find it hard to cope with. And Clare’s motivation should not be underestimated. This group will not have emulated the achievements of their predecessors of the mid-1990s until and unless they’ve won a Munster title.
It would be intriguing to discover if there’ll be anyone in attendance who was at the 1955 Munster final and their memories thereof. Tomorrow may not turn out to be as hot as the day Clare were stunned on the Ennis Road by Mackey’s Greyhounds, a hammerblow all the more shocking for being unforeseen and one that finished off the county for another two decades, but the team that makes optimum use of their subs — not only getting the right men on but getting them on at the right juncture — will surely win.
The obvious course of action is to venture that Clare have caught a fair wind at the right time and will be carried to victory by their new momentum. The obvious objection to this theory is that they won’t ask Cork the questions that Limerick did on a night when Cork, on the rack for most of the second half, still didn’t lose.
Although Conor Lehane is due a good day and Alan Cadogan’s absence continues to lop 0-3 off their bottom line every afternoon, Seamus Harnedy’s work ethic provides a measure of compensation and, when Bill Cooper blocked down that ball against Waterford, was there any man other than Patrick Horgan whom Cork fans would have wanted it to fall to? And was there even a scintilla of doubt about him splitting the posts?
It is Horgan’s misfortune to be playing in this generation, when even a stylist is first required to be an athlete, as opposed to having been around 30 years ago, when the other forwards would have done his running for him and left him to his own mercury-wristed devices. It is Cork’s fortune that, which or whether, he is one of theirs.
It should be highscoring, it’s bound to be fun and the implications of what may ensue at Croke Park will matter not a jot. Not till teatime anyway if it’s Cork. Not till midweek if it’s Clare.
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