ENDA MCEVOY: Ode to a joyous championship

The player

In Limerick’s five championship outings in 2016-17, Graeme Mulcahy managed a goal against Westmeath, failed to score against Tipperary, was twice substituted against Clare (half-time and 56 minutes with 0-0 to his name on each occasion) and came on as a 67th minute substitute for Cian Lynch versus Kilkenny.

Here, it seemed, was the typical corner-forward: neat, nippy and irredeemably lightweight. If ever there was someone who might have found himself surplus to requirements under John Kiely, it was the Kilmallock man, the more so in view of the new manager’s determination to assemble a physically commanding forward line. Instead, Mulcahy went the other way and became the brightest of the county’s constellation of quiet stars in 2018.

There was the consistency of his scoring: 0-4 against Tipperary, 0-2 against Cork, 1-0 against Waterford, nothing in Ennis (withdrawn at the interval as a sacrificial lamb following the red cards), 1-1 against Carlow, 0-3 against Kilkenny, 0-4 in the All-Ireland semi-final and 1-2 on Sunday.

But there was also the work he did away from his corner, drifting out the field to dirty his hands and occasionally crossing over to the opposite flank to pop up as a threat there. This was the modern corner-forward in action. A worker bee first, a scorer second.

Mulcahy stands 5’9 in his socks.

The five men around him measure 6’5, 6’5, 6’1, 6’0 (little Aaron Gillane, apparently) and 6’2. Mulcahy prospered not despite the disparity but because of it.

Oversized forward lines have their virtues but they eventually turn to stodge without the dash of spice provided by a small, light-stepping counterpoint.

Even the misplaced pass that led to Niall Burke’s point in injury time for Galway was excusable.

CALLED IT: Enda McEvoy predicted a Limerick success
CALLED IT: Enda McEvoy predicted a Limerick success

It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Mulcahy to lamp the sliotar down the field without looking and thereby risk giving it away. Instead he got his head up and tried to pick out Cian Lynch in an acre of space. Mulcahy’s instincts and intentions — retain
possession and recycle it to a better placed colleague — were laudable; it was merely the execution that was lacking. Was he deterred?

Not a bit of it; he then had the moral courage to go for, and nail, the clinching point. 

In this new land of cave trolls, an elf can still weave spells.

The points

The drawn 2014 All Ireland final has been much cited of late, largely in the context of how we assumed a 54-score shootout represented a frontier than would be unbreached for years to come.

The Limerick/Cork semi-final, with its 56 scores in normal time, called for a rethink, and then came the declaration by Eoin Larkin — departed the intercounty scene all of two years — that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to hack it these days.

Eoin Larkin
Eoin Larkin

Hurling has never been as tactically sophisticated or had its skills carried out at such speed by so many minutely coached participants as now.

But 2014 stands out for another reason. The accuracy of the shooting. Ten wides amid the 54 scores, with Tipperary missing one attempt in the first half and Kilkenny not missing any in the second half. This was the apotheosis of cold-eyed accuracy in the hottest of climates and it was easy to come away from Croke Park believing that seven or eight wides constituted the maximum leakage future champions could afford.

Sure enough, last year Galway recorded only six wides against Waterford. No need for water rationing there.

Last Sunday, in contrast, a dog of a game that was redeemed by both the climax and the identity of the winners witnessed almost as many wides (36) as scores (39). The Cusack Park debacle apart, this was easily Limerick’s poorest performance of the summer, the wides an equal-parts mixture of poor shooting and overheated decision-making. Understandable in the circumstances, you’ll respond, and fair enough.

As a working hypothesis based on the evidence of the All-Ireland series, try this. Never mind the Callanans, the McGraths, the Reids, the Horgans and the other pointscoring assassins. Labour sufficiently hard from first whistle to last and a hungry young team will create so many chances that enough of them will find the target.

The power problem

Limerick’s victory over Clare in the 1996 Munster semi-final came about partly because of the genius of Ciarán Carey, partly because the All-Ireland champions were out on their feet in the closing 10 minutes.

That, in turn, was because they’d spent the winter celebrating long and hard, had come back late and hungover for the new school year and had to cram for the summer exam. It didn’t quite work.

Some of the numbers behind Championship 2018
Some of the numbers behind Championship 2018

For Clare then read Galway now. The prolonged bacchanals, the delayed return to the grindstone, the National League campaign that wasn’t. All perfectly understandable and nobody complaining.

But then came the gradual loss of altitude, the drift into playing in spasms, the third quarter against Kilkenny in the replay, the second quarter against Clare in the drawn game, the 0-8 in the second half of the replay.

Against Limerick, they managed 0-7 in the second half prior to Conor Whelan’s goal.

Back last November, at a press conference to launch the Leinster colleges championship, Brian Cody predicted that freedom from injuries would be a key factor in the 2018 championship given the increased number of fixtures.

As it turned out, all went swimmingly for Galway on that front until Gearóid McInerney missed the All-Ireland semi-final replay, and even then he was able to line out against Limerick. Granted, they may not have legislated for two replays, whatever about one, when drawing up their blocks of training at the beginning of the season.

Last Sunday marked their ninth outing of the summer compared to their opponents’ eighth. No great disparity, yet the challengers were by a distance the fresher, sharper, hungrier team. This shouldn’t be the case on All Ireland day.

Galway were a power outfit last year and gloried in it. Bulkier does not mean better indefinitely, however. Six days ago, they looked like a team who’d overdone the power and were left musclebound.

The parallel universe

A point in it last Sunday. Both All Ireland semi-finals drawn, with the second of them decided by a point. One of the quarter-finals a two-point game. Either a point or two points in it in four matches in Leinster, with the final a draw. Three draws in Munster and three more matches there that were decided by a puck of a ball.

Now ponder the parallel-universe championship. It wouldn’t have taken much. In the back to front style of the Seinfeld episode that led to accusations of shark-jumping:

Clare reached the All-Ireland final because Aron Shanagher put the ball in the net rather than against the post and the Banner, now two points up with three minutes left, kicked on to win going away from Galway, who had no response left.

There they met Cork, who beat Limerick thanks to Seamus Harnedy’s late goal. Nickie Quaid might have got his stick to it to flick away but he slipped in diving forward.

Except: Clare didn’t reach the semi-final in the first place because Jake Morris found the net instead of finding the upright at the Town End in Thurles, the sliotar rebounding for Clare to sweep downfield and finish off Tipperary’s summer.

Except: Tipp were already out because a certain umpire at the Caherdavin End at the Gaelic Grounds didn’t have exaggerated notions about his powers of eyesight, meaning that Austin Gleeson’s catch stood, Waterford won and the men in blue and gold reached the end of the road before their last fixture.

Ode to a joyous championship

Meanwhile in Leinster: Conal Keaney didn’t go off injured in Parnell Park, the upshot being that Dublin hung on to beat Kilkenny.

Therefore: energised, they followed up a week later with victory in Wexford Park.

Meaning: a Galway/Dublin provincial final ensued, with Kilkenny and Wexford fighting it out for third place.

Kits, cats, sacks, wives, who made it to Croke Park in the end? Call it whatever way you wish, reader. The ultimate Sliding Doors championship was simultaneously,  and consequently, the ultimate Ode to Joy championship.

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