Cork’s three-time All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Ger Cunningham does not believe last Sunday’s All-Ireland final classic represented the arrival at hurling’s ceiling.
The 3-22 to 1-28 draw has been described as one of the outstanding hurling matches ever played, not to mention the highest scoring All-Ireland final in the association’s 130-year history, a contest that brought the sport to dizzying new heights.
And so the question surfaces, how further north can the game travel? Cunningham is adamant hurling will continue to evolve and the ceiling has not yet been knocked on.
The former Cork coach insists there is plenty of room for improvement in the Kilkenny camp ahead of the second instalment in three weeks, and is not convinced advantage for the replay lies with Eamon O’Shea’s charges.
“Hurling will always evolve in some shape or form,” he said “Every sport does and you are always trying to find that extra bit again to get ahead of your opposition. Both sides obviously put a lot into strength and conditioning and the hurling as well. Hopefully we haven’t seen the ceiling for a while, or at all.
“I never thought I would see 54 scores. It was phenomenal. Conditions were ideal but no one expected that. Tipp scored 29 times and could have got another few goals.
“You don’t normally hear Kilkenny conceding 1-28. With three minutes to go Tipp would have been delighted to take the draw but over the whole match they probably had the initiative. I thought they played really well and put it up to Kilkenny.
“But Kilkenny met it head-on and for a while in the second-half looked like they would pull away. And if Richie Power had tipped one over the bar to put them five ahead it might have been the one to make the difference.
“We’ll be blessed if we get anything like that again the next day,” he continued. “Tipp were really good. Kilkenny know how to dig out a game. You’d probably say Kilkenny have more room for improvement than Tipp but I don’t think there’s an advantage to either side.”
As to the argument whether this was the greatest final ever played? “I think over the last five years Kilkenny and Tipp had given certainly two of the best finals I’ve ever been at in my time anyway. Last Sunday’s game was a fantastic game, certainly up there with one of the best two or three games I have ever seen.
“From the start it had everything, 54 scores, nobody missed a wide from the 45th minute on to the last puck, goal opportunities, near misses, drama. I think it had everything, a really, really massive game, two fantastic teams.
“It just goes to show where hurling has gone in the last number of years. We’ve been spoilt for choice really. From a spectator’s point of view, we have been blessed with two magnificent finals in the last two years. This will be the fourth game in two years. We had three really great games.
“It’s probably unusual when you get to a final that you get the classics that we’ve got. Normally the final sometimes mightn’t have been as good as that.
“Certainly I think there has been work on the fitness. Everybody comments on that and the work that needs to be done. I think there is a lot of consistency now in the sliotar as well. There is a lot more work done on the skill levels and I think some of the skill levels we saw last Sunday were super. Some of the greatest defenders that have ever played were on the field and still we had all those scores.”
Cunningham does not believe either set of players will struggle to manage the three-week lay-off, confident the experienced nature of both groups will ensure mental preparations run smoothly. “Both teams will be delighted to go again. Both teams would be disappointed if they had lost it.”
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