Approaching last year’s All-Ireland hurling semi-finals, one bookmaker was so torn between the remaining candidates, all breakthrough sides, the four were made joint All-Ireland favourites. It was the first occasion in modern times it had happened and was largely down to Kilkenny and Tipperary both exiting the Championship in July.
A year on, Kilkenny are already through to the semi-finals with traditional power house Cork, while perennial contenders Tipp are fancied to join them. Limerick and Paudie O’Brien are hanging in there but already some of the gloss has been taking off last year’s Munster breakthrough with their failure to successfully defend it.
Asked if the revolution is over, O’Brien shrugged. “Last year was definitely funny. We contested the 1B league final in Thurles and ended up winning the provincial. Look, the next couple of weeks will tell it all. Tipperary are gathering serious momentum, but, then again, I wouldn’t like to be meeting Dublin the next day as they are.
“Dublin aren’t going to be happy with how they played the last day against Kilkenny. They’re a proud group of lads and they’re a very good side I would have looked at earlier in the year and thought would be serious contenders. The All-Ireland champions are gone. Galway, who are a serious outfit, are gone too. Another two really big teams will be knocked out this weekend and that will open it all up.”
Limerick, of course, can keep the revolution in motion by beating Wexford and taking two more steps to hurling heaven after that.
But their confidence to go a step or two further than last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat hasn’t been helped by their failure to repel Cork. O’Brien is pragmatic about the loss, noting Cork are significantly better than last year. He also noted Cork bounced back from their Munster final defeat in 2013 by reaching an All-Ireland final.
“That’s very, very true,” he said. “You’d have to admire the way Cork went about their business last year after that defeat. We’ve had a couple of weeks to pick ourselves up but the other side of it is that we’re playing Wexford who will have serious momentum coming into this match. We’re aware of that and we’re under no illusions we have a huge task. We’re going to have to make sure we do everything right.”
O’Brien says that what the last 12 months have ultimately proven is that Championship hurling is a game of inches. Wexford drew with both Dublin and Clare over 70 minutes last summer yet won nothing. They’re only still alive in this year’s Championship because they braved another replay.
“If Wexford had lost that replay, how much would it have set them back?” questioned O’Brien. “All the chances they had...fair play to them, they showed great bottle to go on and win it. Every single Championship match is about the small little things. A flick or a hook or a block is as important as a star performance.”