Kenny Rogers probably put it best in one of his early songs. Before The Gambler, I mean. In the sixties one of his better efforts began with this line: I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.
Well, you want the condition of the hurling championship to be competitive, don’t you? Course you do.
Yesterday’s All-Ireland quarter-finals in Thurles had all the accoutrements of a big championship Sunday: groaning terraces (the crowd was 43,088). Traffic chaos. Cold refreshment needed early and often. Was it competitive? In the first game, that turned out to be subject to licence rather than a guarantee, a 24-point winning margin for Limerick. We’ll come back to that. Reluctantly.
Dublin-Tipperary was more competitive than the curtain-raiser, though that’s setting the bar pretty low: Tipp won by 13 points, after all. You can reach for the easy cliche about Dublin’s disappointment at not reaching consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals indicating progress, but the statute of limitations on its deployment has surely expired.
Their heart and commitment couldn’t be questioned, but Dublin struggled all day long. Troubled in a congested middle third, and by Tipperary’s crisper striking — exhibits A through Z, the free-taking of Seamus Callanan — they also had James Woodlock running at them time and again. Everywhere there was a problem.
Conal Keaney couldn’t get free of Pádraic Maher and that added to Dublin’s woes. A seven-point deficit at half-time was a fair indication of how the first 35 minutes had panned out, and halfway through the second half Dublin had their best goal chance — a Paul Ryan penalty — batted away.
Tipperary calmly worked a John O’Dwyer goal and he added a second after a superb Alan Nolan save. The vitality leaked away out of the game after that like a balloon the morning after a party.
“Our touch, our shooting,” said Dublin boss Anthony Daly afterwards. “They were just more clinical today. It’s hard to put you finger on why, but that was the case.”
The Clare native wasn’t being drawn on his immediate future with the Dubs; the victorious manager wasn’t losing the run of himself regarding the immediate future either.
“It’s great to be in an All-Ireland semi-final with the chance — we won’t have much of a chance if we keep hurling like that,” said Eamon O’Shea.
“I was happy enough with the win but I don’t think both teams will be happy with the way they played. I don’t know what sort of match it was from your perspective but it didn’t look great to me. Both teams were guilty of sloppiness at times. It was a win, and a really good win, and a really important win for Tipp, but we’re trying to look at what we do all the time on the pitch.”
In the first game Wexford ran out of legs on their fourth senior game in four weeks, but their disappointed followers should bear in mind that lessons they’re learning this year were absorbed, sometimes painfully, by Limerick last year.
And this year. The Munster final against Cork taught Limerick a stern lesson about goals: experience is a catch-all term but translates loosely as doing properly one day what you didn’t manage the previous day.
Hence Shane Dowling’s slick lay-off to David Breen on 26 minutes, and the big Na Piarsaigh man’s fine goal: 1-13 to 0-5. A serious case became terminal in first-half injury time, with Dowling improvising two close-in goals: 3-15 to 0-8 at half-time, the purest striker in the match contriving a gentle touch for the third goal, a master class in economy.
The watching Minister for Finance no doubt approved.
The mellow sounds of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, our half-time entertainment, hadn’t yet drifted away when Paul Browne drove through and goaled from close range.
Wexford’s recent games — a kind of reverse Garth Brooks schedule — was brought up by Limerick boss TJ Ryan mind.
“First of all, to be fair to Wexford, playing four weeks on the trot isn’t fair at all at this level,” said Ryan.
“I don’t think it’s right. It’s difficult, and it was bound to catch up with them. Today our lads started well, they got the scores and then they pushed ahead.
“From their point of view, adrenaline would have kept them going if they were ahead, but when that didn’t happen our lads were professional and they drove it on.”
In the opposite corner, Liam Dunne wasn’t offering excuses.
“No complaints,” he said.
“Unfortunately, things didn’t happen for us. From early on in the game you could see that the heads were wanting to get there but the bodies weren’t able to bring them there and I can’t fault our fellas.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks and we just came up short.”
We’ve heard a lot about the new-found competitiveness of the hurling championship in recent weeks but yesterday there was an awful lot of daylight between the teams.
Perhaps talk of a new era is a little premature: you never count your money while you’re sitting at the table.
Kenny Rogers taught us that one, too.
Five things to take from Thurles
1 We learned that you can learn...
Limerick didn’t create a lot of goal chances in the Munster hurling final, and they didn’t take what they created. Yesterday against Wexford they not only scored goals but came bursting through for goals at every opportunity. This approach is one that they are likely to replicate in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, you feel...
2 That no matter how freshyou feel...
Having four games on the trot will catch you, as Wexford found. This brings up the vexed question of fixture planning and so forth, which is on a par with Fermat’s Last Theorem when it comes to being solved. However, it surely can’t be fair to punish a team for winning games by keeping them in the arena until they keel over?
3 That past performance is no guarantee of present quality
Despite all the talk of a new era in hurling neither game yesterday set the pulse racing. This isn’t an indictment of either side — as Anthony Daly said, everyone goes out to do their best — but a frank assessment would find that it wasn’t the most entertaining double bill, despite high hopes before the throw-in.
4 That the ancient regimehas re-established itself.
Yes, those old beasts have reawakened. Either Cork or Tipperary will contest the All-Ireland final and Kilkenny are one of the other semi-finalists. Meet the new boss.
5 That you go early to adouble-header in Thurles.
The traffic was already noticeable, if moving, when yours truly rolled into Thurles at around 11.30am. This gave us a revolting sense of superiority over those poor souls, particularly from Dublin, who ambled to the Tipperary venue a good deal later.
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