Can Limerick grab this opportunity?

It’s probably someone or other’s law. Not Murphy’s, not Sod’s, but one of that crew.

And this is how it reads: Be blessed with a fabulous June and July in the hurling championship and inevitably you’ll get an All-Ireland quarter-final bill that stinks the place out.

Thus it was at Semple Stadium on Sunday, a day on which – shades of Beckett – nothing good happened, twice. Yet this car crash of an afternoon paradoxically left us with a host of intriguing sidebars and sub-headings, not to mention two inordinately attractive looking semi-finals, the second of them a unique superpower collision. Here are some of the main talking points.

Different folks, different sounds

Donald Rumsfeld would have had a ball had he been in Thurles, what with all the known unknowns and confirmed suspicions flying around the place. We were fairly sure beforehand that Tipperary had got the wheels back on the wagon; now we’re fully sure. We knew Wexford would hit the wall sooner or later; they did so sooner and with a terrific rending of metal. We assumed that Dublin, spurred on by the mortification of their Leinster final no-show, would at least manage to put it up to Tipp; they failed abjectly. And then there was the revelation of the day: Limerick have become genuine All-Ireland contenders.

It was an occasion of kaleidoscopic, four-county colours and varied sounds, many of them discordant. But Limerick got the entirety of the orchestra going, with much crashing of cymbals and blaring of trumpets. Wexford produced one or two sprightly passages early on before their second-quarter collapse. Tipp, like Fernando, were content with softly strumming their guitar. Dublin, unlike Stevie Wonder, produced songs in the key of dire.

Limerick are evolving

Despite complaints from some outraged denizens of Shannonside afterwards that their boys weren’t getting the praise they deserved, the sheer scale of the winning margin in the curtain raiser said more about Wexford than it did about Limerick. Be realistic here. Any tally of 4-21 from play at this level instantly and automatically raises the issue of the scent of rodent.

But what Limerick did well they did really well, some of their first-half shooting aside, and this with Donal O’Grady, their captain and a spiritual leader, absent. And because what’s enacted on the pitch reflects what’s been rehearsed on the training field, it’s evident that their coaching regime is of a high standard. Limerick have played three games this summer, won two of them and performed in all of them. As of this moment the departure of the other Donal O’Grady has worked out for the best for all parties.

The last time Limerick reached an All-Ireland final they may not have done so by default but they patently weren’t the second-best team in the country; the cards fell their way rather than Waterford’s in late July and early August 2007. Reach the final this time around, in contrast, and they’ll have done so entirely on their own merits, by playing their hand brilliantly and by virtue of being one of the two best teams in the country. They’ll be underdogs against Kilkenny on Sunday week and if they win that they’ll be underdogs again in September, but what of it? They’re big enough, bould enough and possess sufficient thrust and cutting in key areas to give Brian Cody’s men plenty of it, which wasn’t the case in ‘07. That’s a thoroughly acceptable starting point, even though a little more in the way of output from Declan Hannon wouldn’t go amiss. TJ Ryan’s Limerick fight hard and they’ll die hard.

No need for Wexford tears

Four wides in the opening 11 minutes, then Willie Doran shot narrowly wide with a daisycutter, but this was an occasion when Wexford’s recent bad habits irritated them rather than plagued them. The bodies, taking the field for the fourth weekend in succession, were tired and the minds were tired; witness the three balls they managed to skitter out over the sideline, unpressurised, in the first half. No biggie, for it would have happened next time out if it hadn’t happened here. Shane Dowling’s first goal, with David Breen outfielding Ciarán Kenny, turning for goal and trundling through unopposed, captured Wexford’s fatigue in cameo. A week ago the first man who’d have been tracking back with Breen, hassling him and harrying, was Lee Chin, the team’s supreme athlete. But now he and the rest of them couldn’t get their legs to carry them to the places they wanted to go.

The entries on the credit side of the ledger far outweigh those on the debit side, nonetheless. Wexford have at long last had an adventure. Chin, Liam Ryan, Liam Óg McGovern and Conor McDonald have enriched the summer no end. The county will start next season a few rows nearer the front of the grid. Get past the fleeting disappointment of Sunday and 2014 has been all jam for Wexford, with some spangles on the top.

Dismal Dublin

Wexford weren’t the poorest of the four teams on view. That dishonour fell to Dublin. It was like watching them on their bad days a few seasons ago, all studied, over-elaborate build-ups. What was widely suspected at the time is inarguable now: last year was Dublin’s year.

Anthony Daly doesn’t need us or anyone else to tell him that the time has come for a parting of the ways after six seasons. Not that there was even the slightest touch of the Grand Old Duke of York about it all. Daly has not left Dublin where he started out with them; he leaves them a Leinster title and National League title better off, with – perhaps the most far-reaching aspect of his tenure – a visible legacy for the youth of the county to inherit and build on. A shame he couldn’t have received a less downbeat send-off.

Tipp are getting there

Bonner Maher was quiet, Noel McGrath rarely figured, John O’Dwyer got nowhere near his customary quota of shots off — and none of this mattered, the hosts having gauged early on that little more than going through the motions would be required. Eamon O’Shea is entitled to a small pat on the back. Tipperary’s season is not yet a success but is no failure either. Beat Cork in a fortnight’s time, in the most appetising semi-final since Tipp and Kilkenny were thrown together in 2002, and the hay will be saved alright.


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