The first big weekend, as Arab Strap put it in a musical context.
Big is right: three intriguing hurling contests, two counties gone, six counties left. The two standing after tomorrow’s qualifiers become contenders. There is nothing like a rush of momentum to the head.
Enjoy the enjoyment beyond the excitement. The legal highs of championship last far longer in the anticipation than in the experience. And maybe even make a grab at delight, this same minute, because the atmosphere is a touch pinched? For sure we should.
Pinched? Just a bit. Last weekend’s Sunday Game highlights programme broke into an impromptu coaching session on how to defeat Kilkenny, as if they were nigh unassailable. The impulse was generous on those pundits’ part but a tad premature.
The Wexford U21s’ thundering win over Kilkenny on Wednesday evening tipped back hurling’s scales. Knock on speculation leaves Offaly’s U21s the province’s second best outfit. Were Wexford to lift this All-Ireland, there could be a ripple in Offaly, same as getting near the Clare seniors in 2013 fed Wexford’s campaign in 2014. Belief, no less than love, is a drug.
Three wins on the trot in this grade surely leaves a seam of Model hurlers with scant fear of one neighbour. Three weekends back, their senior counterparts offered the stripy men way too much respect.
Kilkenny are far from unassailable; 46 minutes into the Leinster final, Joe Canning converted a free and left but a point in it at 1-15 to 2-11. The following 60 seconds saw Canning strike a poor miss before sending a sideline cut wide at the near post. 49th minute: David Burke’s flashing drive at goal.
There was Galway’s chance, a chink of minutes when they could have moved ahead with menace. The opening got squandered. Kilkenny shot five points on the spin, collapsing the contest.
Still, it was a contest. The Westerners would make sticky repeat opposition for the champions.
It was heartening, despite the loss, to see them stand up. Too long now, Galway’s players have seemed concussed by regrets over not going all the way in 2012, like a lad still living in the same village as a former fiancée. Anthony Cunningham, as manager, needs to facilitate emigration in their minds to the Republic of Now.
The musk of regret hovers. Item: Limerick have failed to thrive in 2015. They are cursing failure to clamber over Kilkenny in the storm that was their 2014 All-Ireland semi-final.
Recent text from a friend in Cappamore: “We are not good enough. Kilkenny are good enough. Galway are in between.” Do Limerick feel best chance vanished last August?
If so, they also need to emigrate. There is nothing so husking as a backward glance. If nothing else, regret is the death of focus.
Dublin can be rattling brilliant. And then, often in the same match, Dublin can be ridiculously brittle, like a jar left too long in the kiln. Every season since Anthony Daly took over for 2009, they lost a championship encounter there to be won, starting with that 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final versus Limerick. Needless losses engender flakiness. Dublin versus Limerick in 2015 is a toss-up. Neither side is moving well. While Dublin probably own the more talented forwards, they look short, especially with Peter Kelly out, in the full-back line.
Eric Lowndes, pretty much a bit player with the footballers, might be an addition to the hurlers for corner back. But so it goes, where big ball is king.
Hard to know. Michael Carton quitting the Dublin panel is a jolt. This one might have draw scribbled on it. On balance, Limerick by three points.
Anyone taking on Clare requires a host of man-markers. The pending list is formidable: Aaron Cunningham, Colm Galvin, Darach Honan, Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath, Shane O’Donnell. Allow these players latitude and they will cut a deep groove of scores.
Cork are not well fixed in marking regard. Short time ago, their management felt so unsure of defensive resources that Brian Murphy was recalled from retirement. Equally, there is a sense that Cork remain concussed by 2013’s outcome, so Pat Horgan close and so Domhnall O’Donovan far. They looked jittery enough when Wexford rallied last Saturday.
Clare do not currently possess the equilibrium that drove them to the very top. Yet they are funnelling in a better direction, hurling in more straightforward fashion, setting up for goal getting. Clare possess sufficient resources to win tomorrow (and by five points or so).
The sensible man was a Dublin man, after I asked him who would win the All -Ireland. Text from Raheny: “Sorry, cannot say until after Sunday.” Spot on.
Whoever wins between Tipperary and Waterford will exit the Munster final with momentum coming out of their ears. These panels are at an entirely different stage of evolution, given respective age profile and sideline set-up.
Tipperary have more to lose by losing, so to speak. This prompt should see them over the line by four points after terrific exchanges. Waterford are serious.
Whoever wins, Thurles next Sunday afternoon will be a tumult, a head plunge, a feast of noise among the 99s and the chips.
The lesson will be simple and superficial and obvious and profound: 2015 only once is 2015. The slow saxophone truths can wait for winter.
Most of all, we should realise that you can never go back, a recognition for which Arab Strap, working that scuzzy hinterland between glum and glam, wrote the songbook. Heading home on Saturday or Sunday, listen to ‘New Birds’ from Philophobia (1998). Listen and absorb, porous in the light of championship evening.
Once more now and never more true: there is only useless clarity in regret.