“Sunday’s eagerly awaited All-Ireland hurling final is not yet sold out,” according to a headline yesterday.
Look no further for the 10-length winner of the Most Oxymoronic Line of the Year competition. Habemus papam. Whatever about this decider being eagerly awaited or otherwise it comes as no surprise to discover it’s not sold out.
This will be the sixth September encounter of Kilkenny and Tipperary since 2009. They’ve met in three National League finals in the same period of time. There was a July championship encounter and an August championship encounter in there too. The dominant colour scheme of this championship era is brindled in black and amber and blue and gold. When the smoke clears after the next nuclear holocaust there may be no spectators (bar possibly Pat Hickey), but Kilkenny and Tipp will still be getting wired into one another.
As a consequence, if familiarity has bred contempt — or at any rate ennui — in the neutral, we can hardly be astounded. Imagine the demand had Waterford held on first time out against Kilkenny last month and Galway been the right side rather than the wrong side of a one-point game against Tipp. They’d be camped out on Jones’s Road already. An rud that isn’t annamh isn’t iontach and can’t be expected to be.
The unthinking person’s reaction to the umpteenth contemporary Kilkenny/Tipperary collision is probably something along the lines of this being “bad for hurling”. Understandable, but wrong. To return to a point made here in the past: It’s the bad teams that are bad for hurling, not the good teams.
If Kilkenny keep setting the standard and Tipperary keep trying to see them and raise them and nobody else is featuring bar Galway with their regular-occasional September appearances, who’s to blame? Exactly. Not these three.
Granted, the pairing is unappealing if you’re looking for variety. That’s fair. We all crave change, even if it’s only temporary, every now and then. Part of the reason Leicester City’s triumph was so warmly welcomed, its sheer improbability aside, was that this wasn’t another title annexed by the giant threshing machines of Manchester and London.
The real worry, however, is not the recent ubiquity of the chaps in stripes and the lads with the hoop, but rather the prospect of such an established scenario continuing indefinitely. What’s the likelihood of Kilkenny not appearing in an All-Ireland semi-final next year and for the next four or five years after that? As long as yer man remains at the helm, slim to none. If they’re still reaching finals with a functional team, they’re certainly going to be reaching them when they get around to having a better than functional team again.
A similiar remark applies to Tipperary. Michael Breen, Seamus Kennedy and John McGrath all have their best years ahead of them. Liam Cahill’s minors are white-hot favourites for Sunday’s curtain-raiser. Tipp aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Conversely, on what we’ve seen this summer, Cork, Dublin and Limerick won’t be fetching up at Croke Park in August or September in the near future. Clare have plenty of work — and, even more so, plenty of strategic rethinking — to do in order to get back there themselves. The non-aligned observer, then, must place his or her faith in Galway and Waterford. Do we already have next year’s semi-finalists in the latter duo and Sunday’s protagonists? Perhaps not, yet one would be naïve in the extreme to bet against such a scenario.
So then, Micheál Donoghue and Derek McGrath. Are you going to save us from having to write this article again this day next year?
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