Hours after Sunday’s latest Munster SHC draw, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh thumbed a message on the Waterford WhatsApp players group. Nodding to his fumble that led to Patrick Maher’s first goal, he claimed responsibility for the draw but vowed to make amends against Limerick this Sunday and encouraged his team-mates to look ahead to the game.
There was no mention of Alan Kelly’s mistake, an attitude in keeping with Derek McGrath’s post-match interviews. Described in one of those offerings by McGrath as “the greatest team player ever to play for Waterford”, Walsh was once again considering the collective first.
Equalling Henry Shefflin as the player with the second most numbers of Championship appearances with 71 on Sunday, 35-year-old Walsh gave another demonstration of his value to the Déise, toggling between wing-back and being used as spare man following Michael Cahill’s sending off. Even with that error in mind, he was a serious contender for man of the match.
Whether or not Walsh meant what he wrote, it illustrated leadership. McGrath, although his words too may also have betrayed him, showed the same when electing not to kick up a fuss about it. Waterford simply can’t afford to. Had the decision knocked them out of the Munster championship, there would have been an opportunity to scream murder but they’re not out and expediency dictates they must re-focus.
Expediency almost meant they remained stoic when they were designated the away dressing room in the Gaelic Grounds. As the “home” side, they should have allocated the Clare end area but for some reason Tipp were provided with it.
Waterford’s grace, though, shouldn’t mask what has been a Munster SHC of inequality for them, ranging from having no home ground to the decision to let Tipperary’s second goal stand.
At least on Sunday they were facing a team who must also experience four games in 21 days but Tipperary haven’t had half the bad luck the Déise have endured.
But on the point of the two teams’ schedules, they are gruelingly unfair compared to, say, Clare whose Munster run is tidily broken up with two games each side of a two-week break. The fact Kilkenny, Offaly, Wexford, Cork, and Tipperary were all unable to win their third game in 13/14 days indicates there is an imbalance. The luck of the draw is indelibly attached to knock-out championships but the introduction of the round-robin should have lessened the presence of fortune. It hasn’t.
There is also imbalance between the Munster and Leinster competitions. For all the furore about Munster not having the same relegation rules as Leinster, it has proven to be a superior championship. It is not a freak situation that going into round four all five teams could either qualify for the Munster final or see their championship end this weekend or the next. Put it this way, it is likely to be a long time before a team enjoys a 100% record after four games, which should be Galway’s fate next Saturday.
Offaly have cried foul on their demotion and they have an argument regarding what was expected of them compared to Dublin who, like Clare, had a timely break neatly splitting the campaign. However, ironic as it may seem, Offaly stand a greater chance of featuring in the Liam MacCarthy Cup from the Joe McDonagh Cup in 2019 than they did in the Leinster SHC this year. If they are good enough, they will play into July from the second tier than Saturday’s early demise.
The Munster SHC, though, is a battle of equals on unfair terms. Before, it was cited that the gap for the Munster champions between their provincial final and All-Ireland semi-final was a hindrance.
Now it’s the cut-throat nature of the competition for Munster means it’s now an All-Ireland within itself; if you will, Division 1A to Leinster’s Division 1B. It’s no wonder Galway are assumed to be smiling — they have all the same privileges as Munster counties and their passage forward is easier.
Two months ago, John Mullane mentioned that the All-Ireland structure would suit the reigning champions and we have seen nothing to dispute that argument. So when an erroneous umpire call could end up being the difference between a team emerging from Munster or not, the significance of it is even greater.
The GAA know Waterford did them a favour on Sunday not making a scene, as Louth footballers understandably did in 2010. As Walsh and McGrath appreciate, circumstances were different; Waterford still have a race to run but in a summer of fine lines you can’t help feeling one has been explicitly crossed.
Ironic twist as GPA fights for amateurism
Most rows lack an understanding of nuance and the stand-off between Sport Ireland (SI) the GPA is no exception. The SI’s determination to ensure sport is as clean as it can be can’t be condemned. On the other hand, the GPA’s argument that holding them to ransom by withholding grants from a year when they were fully compliant with anti-doping rules is not a healthy negotiating stance nor a just one.
Home testing, as much as several players appear to be against it, Cork’s Anthony Nash being the latest to publicly object to it as “a bit severe”, is likely to become a reality for the inter-county pool. The GAA have been quiet on the subject but it’s believed it would be in the interest of the sport’s integrity to provide home addresses.
There are footballers and hurlers who would support such a move. One leading player told us last week he would have no qualms with it — “Performance-enhancing drugs are rampant in professional sport and this is a good way of protecting our sport. You could be taking drugs from October to January or February and get away with it and that would be a worry for me.”
Last week, former GPA chairman Dónal Óg Cusack retweeted messages from Walter Palmer, a former NBA player turned US sports labour activist who consults the GPA. Palmer claimed SI are not following their own procedures and inter-county GAA players were being treated differently.
“Enhanced amateurism” is what Cusack spoke of the GPA aspiring to some years back and another layer of dope testing might just be interpreted as a ramification of that. But for an organisation that previously conducted a feasibility study of professionalism in inter-county Gaelic games, it’s ironic the GPA are now defending what they consider a vestige of amateurism, which is privacy.
Ten reasons to believe Kerry hype
And there we were, thinking after Cork’s handsome win over Tipperary that Saturday fortnight’s Munster final might have been in the hue of the battles of yesteryear.
Cork may yet prove they can live up to their side of the bargain — but there is more chance that Kerry will. Here’s why:
1. Kerry’s 32 points, a winning margin of 22 over Clare, just one shy of their 1981 semi-final win. In the next game, the provincial final, Kerry beat Cork by 11.
2. Cork have yet to win a competitive game in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
3. In this decade, Kerry have won two of their last three Championship meetings there.
4. Didn’t Clare — who struggled to put up 10 points against Kerry — beat Cork in March?
5. Those Clare restarts — not since that All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin two years ago have Kerry so eagerly looked at the opposition’s kickout as an opportunity to attack.
6. For a team with a dreadful defensive record in the league, the 10 points Kerry gave up on Sunday was their lowest season concession since the 0-22 to 0-6 win over Down in Newry in February 2016.
7. To boot, half of Clare’s points came from frees.
8. Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s unbeaten record in Munster now stands at 13 matches, 12 victories and the 2015 final draw against Cork.
9. The last time Cork and Kerry toasted the stadium in Championship fare was in 1976 when Kerry won a classic Munster final replay after extra-time, 3-20 to 2-19.
10. David Clifford.
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