We have, in the words of a certain bad footballer from Monaghan, lived in important places, times when great events were decided, writes Enda McEvoy
Injury-time equalisers and winners all over the place. A nine-point lead no longer a comfortable cushion but a warning siren.
Ghost goals and umpires with x-ray vision and brass necks. Goalkeepers scoring points to bate the band, including one effort from play from the half-back line. (More on this, and why it’s no cause for jubilation, anon.)
Anyway, important places and great events in the Munster championship these past few weeks, the greatest event of them all being John Kiely’s happy admission that he “needs a box of Panadol” to help him choose his optimum forward line. Imagine it: a Limerick hurling manager has a headache for the right reasons.
Oh the rapture! Oh that we have lived to see the day!
One caveat arising from the round robin down south, however. With the obvious exception of rugby’s Leinster Schools Cup, which were it a mythological figure would be Narcissus, no Irish sports competition is even half as much in love with its own reflection in the pool.
That’s just how it is. But all the fun of the fair over the past month will count for precisely nothing in the greater scheme of things if a Munster team doesn’t go on to lift the MacCarthy Cup.
Imagine — it’s not difficult — Galway winning the All Ireland and rolling over a couple of Munster teams at the business end of the competition to do so. Where be your gibes now, Munster hurling? Your gambols? Your songs? The apocryphal line about the oul’ lad watching the golf on TV – “Aisy to do that with no one marking you” – will never have seemed more apt.
Not that the Leinster championship has been anything to write home about, dár ndóigh.
Bumping and grinding on narrow dancefloors. Fighting for your right to play your game. Plain fare compared to the garishness of the menu in Munster, with its condiments and sauces and hay smoke and posh cutlery.
Fortunately Cusack Park won’t be haute cuisine. They won’t even need a cooker. This will be primeval, raw-meat stuff, as befits the competing counties and their rivalry, and in an era where Nasa might have designed the prototypes for the laser-guided puckouts and crossfield passes it’ll be all the better for it.
Some other observations.
It’s not too early to be looking ahead to next summer. Really. Regardless of what happens tomorrow Clare, Cork and Limerick can all do so with optimism on the back of their current form. Tipperary and Waterford cannot. If 2018 was bad for both, 2019 guarantees nothing bar stringent reconstruction.
Tipperary and league finals. The 2017 edition compromised their championship challenge almost, albeit not quite, beyond redemption. The 2018 edition killed off their championship challenge even before it began.
They’ll do well to steer clear of league finals for the next few years Michael Ryan shouldn’t rush to a decision and he has said, sensibly, that he won’t. Yet neither should he hang on out of some misguided sense of patriotism if his head is telling him otherwise.
What constitutes a classic? A few years back a chap who features on these pages attempted to draw up an algorithm. On one issue he was unyielding and he was right.
The teams must be neck and neck, stride for stride, from start to finish, or at any rate for three-quarters of the journey. A game of two halves by definition cannot be a classic, irrespective of the drama of the climax.
So: Tipp v Cork? Not a classic. Tipp v Clare? Not a classic. Cork v Limerick? A classic, no questions asked.
Limerick’s scoring rate. In their three outings to date they’ve hit 1-23, 0-28 and 2-26. Comfortably in excess of Waterford’s daily output when they reached the last three All Ireland semi-finals. Comfortably the stuff of MacCarthy Cup contenders.
Limerick’s physicality. Remarkable for a team with their age profile and remarked on in tones of rueful admiration by Derek McGrath last Sunday evening.
Seamus Flanagan, in particular, has notable use of himself for one so young. If there’s one team in Munster built to face down Galway it’s not Cork and it’s not Clare.
Cian Lynch. Another three points versus Waterford and more strings pulled from deep. The resemblance to Paul Scholes continues to grow. And not because of the colour of his hair.
Cork? The easiest team on the eye left in the championship. Also the easiest team to play against. Every other county asks questions of their opponents, whether via size (Galway, Limerick), sweepers (Wexford), studied build-up play (Kilkenny) or whatnot; Cork are orthodox to a fault. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad fault to possess were it not for the presence of Galway.
Those scoring goalkeepers. Now that the men between the posts have been weaponised to the extent that James Skehill is dumping the ball on the 14-metre line and Stephen O’Keeffe has reinvented himself as a scoring wing-back, the shark has been well and truly jumped.
No offence to O’Keeffe, or to his powers of improvisation and accuracy, but a goalie finding the target from play cheapens the art of scoring. It cannot be good for the game and it isn’t. Time for the Hurling Development Committee to act.
Clare. For a bunch that haven’t done it before, or in this case a bunch that haven’t done it for so long they’ve forgotten the steps, all it takes is a spark. Look at Galway last year. Scraped past Waterford in a league quarter-final in Salthill and suddenly the season opened up for them to reach out and caress.
Or Clare themselves in 2013. Beat Galway in Thurles, reached Croke Park and turned into Brazil. Or Tipperary in 2010 once they’d staggered past Galway in that gutwrenching All Ireland quarter-final. Go back far enough and think of Wexford overcoming Kilkenny in a provincial quarter-final in 1996. One spark, that’s all.
Clare’s league champions of 1977-78 were feted by the local authority during the week. Proper order too. Without Durack, Callinan, Hehir, Stack, Honan and the boys there’d have been no 1995. Without 1995 there’d have been no 2013. Gods make their own civic receptions.
As for tomorrow, it’ll surely end in a draw, won’t it? After all, Homer made the Iliad from such local rows
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved