PM O'SULLIVAN: The heat is on as Cork have thrown open championship

If Galway progress in a business-like manner, it will augur well for more than a Leinster semi-final, writes PM O’Sullivan.

Less than a week into summer hurling and championship mercury heads for the hills.

Cork’s stunning victory over Tipperary wrenched the summer out of likelihood and into possibility — out of Centigrade into Fahrenheit, if you like. Yes, so much of one equates to so much of the other. But we murder to dissect. Does the latter usage not better frame memorable occasions?

Fahrenheit days, of the kind only hurling gives us… There is no exaggeration, no overstatement. To an extent, Cork freed up not just 2017 but the rest of this decade. They flung open three seasons in which Tipperary were expected to dominate. Would it not be a fine and holy thing if the next three senior titles fly by the nets of hurling’s Big Three? Could certainly happen.

Talking to Tipp people during the week, reading online comment, you could detect an odd enough mood. Supporters were generous to Cork’s efforts, acknowledging how clearly they deserved to win. Under it all, there was more sage ruefulness than searing disappointment.

No show against Galway in the NHL Final became a forewarning. Hindsight says similar about last March’s league tie with Kilkenny in Thurles. Losing an eight point lead after Niall O’Meara’s goaled in the 22nd minute eroded Tipperary confidence. On the night, for a draw, they required a Steven O’Brien point in the 70th minute.

Their supporters had arrived in droves, avid for the sort of home league massacre Kilkenny inflicted in March 2009, when they had 17 points to spare. Now O’Meara, eight years later, has prised that eight-point lead and a further 50 minutes in which to double or treble it.

Now Kilkenny are Christians and the All-Ireland champions are young lions. The Tipp crowd are exploring their inner Nero. Fluffing that lead likely seeded the first doubts of 2017. Last Sunday, Cork turned a breach into a fracture, noting how Galway had turned a crack into a breach.

Galway went offering a template: coarsen Tipperary’s bespoke clearances and see how their forwards get on chasing off the peg possession. We know how emperors, Nero or whomever, can get caught for apparel.

Talking to those Tipp people, reading that comment, you could sense a particular mood. This defeat to Cork took away a horizon, the prospect of an era, and left but a sky, a challenging season.

Tipperary might well regroup and mount Hogan Stand steps next September. Ruling out this scenario would be foolish. They still possess wonderful hurlers. But their supporters, mad desirous of at least three senior titles in a row, no longer believe in such a prospect, even if no one is saying so in the open.

At least five do or die days await Tipp merely for two in a row. They must face their own lions.

This weekend features three Leinster quarter-finals. These contests hardly make, as per a song title from The Associates, ‘The Glamour Chase’. Still, they should tell a tale in certain regards.

Tomorrow, Offaly take on Westmeath in Mullingar. Anticipation centres, unfortunately, on a mini firestorm over an anonymous Offaly Express columnist (accurately titled ‘The Sideline Mouthpiece’). This individual opined of Westmeath: “counties like these shouldn’t be in our universe in hurling circles”.

The open wound that is Offaly hurling gets mentioned here a lot. To me, their supporters are perhaps the most judicious of any county. Hopefully Offaly’s display tomorrow evening will rub out entirely unrepresentative nonsense.

Sunday sees Dublin take on Galway in Tullamore. As a rule, this encounter would be awkward to call, involving two teams who are to consistency what John Daly was to putting.

Not so exacting, this time round. Galway are NHL champions and Dublin were relegated from Division 1A. Galway own all the form and are settling into optimal team shape, with Joe Canning at centre-forward.

Even so, Dublin’s defence is more than decent. Shane Barrett, Chris Crummey and Eoghan O’Donnell, augmenting Liam Rushe’s well established talent, are commendable operators. But will their front eight muster enough penetration against a honed Galway back eight? Hard to conceive it.

Besides, how could you call this encounter for Dublin? Manager Ger Cunningham is not just mislaying players but good players at an extraordinary rate. If Galway progress in a business-like manner, it will augur well for more than a Leinster semi- final.

Sunday likewise sees Laois take on Wexford in Portlaoise, a pairing with its own intrigue. Of immediate interest, since the bookmakers deem Wexford 1/10 shots, will be their structure. Can it ever make sense to deploy an extra defender when so overwhelming a favourite?

Then again, an acquaintance of mine knows one of the Wexford panel. Same man made a striking remark, during the week, to this acquaintance.

Seems a recent trip for warm weather training proved onerous in the extreme. Following exertions patented in Clare, only a dozen or so Wexford players were fit to train on the final day. There was a lot of head shaking about. Same man remarked Wexford will likely be “a bit flat” against Laois this weekend and would hardly exceed the (eight-point) handicap.

Make of such stories what you will. Clare beat Waterford in 2016’s replayed NHL Final and departed for warm climes, where their schedule was similarly ferocious. Which or whether, Clare were notably flat in a subsequent Munster semi-final against Waterford, losing 1-21 to 0-17. Their season never recovered.

Could faulty sweeper-driven logic combine with flatness and throw up a massive upset? Remember as well Laois, down in Wexford Park last March, came up short by only four points.

Upset? Still fair unlikely, though these coordinates deserve mention. Wexford are in their first season of this regime. Last year, Clare were in their fifth season. The novelty factor should keep Wexford afloat and set up a cracker with Kilkenny in a fortnight’s time.

More and more, this summer looks to have found Fahrenheit bearings.


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