During my time as Dublin manager, I got Michael Carruth, the Olympic boxing gold medallist from 1992, involved as a masseur. Mick had a great presence around the dressing room. The lads loved him. He had a great way with people, and everyone had great respect for Mick because of what he achieved.
That respect followed him wherever we went. After we gave Wexford a good clipping in the league one year, Billy Walsh, the renowned Irish boxing coach from Wexford, came in to our dressing room to say hello to Mick. Billy congratulated me in his distinctive Wexford twang. “Ye boys are knocking the fun out of going to Dublin-Wexford matches anymore,” he said.
A couple of years later, after we gave Wexford another hiding in the league, Liam Dunne greeted me afterwards with a smile that was clearly concealing a lot of hurt.
“I’m getting sick of shaking hands with you in this way Dalo,” he said.
Hurling is built on communal battles and rivalries, framing so much of the warrior element to our game.
Our tribe against your tribe. Our crowd against that other crowd. No let-up. No backing down.
Nobody wants to let the other crowd get on top. Teams will always enjoy sporadic periods of dominance over certain rivals, but that theme is no longer as prevalent in the hurling world — especially since Cody’s army of Grim Reapers used to go around slaying all before them.
It’s been almost a century now since Mick Mackey and his Limerick greyhounds ruled the hurling terrain. Limerick have only won one All-Ireland in the last 47 years, but they have already given the impression so far in this league that they want to start governing the hurling world with an iron fist once again.
The league will always only be the league, but their two performances to date betray Limerick’s intent, their desire to press their boot on the other crowds’ throats at every opportunity. To get inside their heads. To start spooking them as often as they can from now, as if they are leaving a calling card for the summer.
They didn’t win the All-Ireland last year, but since winning the 2018 title they have dished out some serious hidings to most of the top teams — Kilkenny (league), Tipperary (league and championship), Clare (championship), Waterford (league and championship), and Galway (league).
The one crowd who they haven’t put down though are Cork. In their last four league and championship meetings, Limerick only won one, as well as drawing once. Cork turned them over twice last year, in the league and the championship.
You get the feeling now that Limerick are heading to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday with blood on their minds. You can never read too much into a Munster league final, but Limerick pulverised Cork that evening in January, scoring 1-32, never letting up as they went.
They’ll want the two points and to more or less seal a league semi-final place but, with Limerick’s first championship game against Cork in Cork, they’ll also want to put some doubt in Cork’s minds ahead of that showdown in May.
Limerick have become so strong and so proficient in the tackle, they’re swallowing teams up like boa constrictors. But the one thing we’re guaranteed to get with the billiard-table type surface in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a fast-paced game with some quality hurling.
Cork have injuries. Their panel is certainly a lot more shallow than Limerick’s, but this should still be a contest with some real atmosphere.
With Limerick bringing a huge crowd, there will probably be an attendance close to 15,000.
Limerick have been far more convincing to date. The conditions aside, Cork won’t have been happy with scraping over the line against Westmeath last Sunday. They’ll have their three big hitters back from UCC — Shane Kingston, Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon — but Cork will need everyone going well to win here. This is a big test for them, especially in trying to cope with Limerick in that middle-third warzone, which the Treaty County now seem to have down to a fine art.
Cork will try to impose their own game, but they can’t turn over the ball as often as Galway did because Limerick kill teams on the counter-attack.
Because Cork have caused Limerick more problems than most, Limerick will really want to test themselves now, seeking to go to an even higher level here. Even though Limerick have often had a mental block with Cork teams — I saw that first-hand when involved with the Limerick underage teams — I wouldn’t say that this side have a hang-up with anyone, certainly not this Cork team. But Limerick will be out to prove as much and they’ll see a win, maybe even with a bit to spare, as a baseline requirement.
Looking at Dublin-Wexford Saturday evening, Wexford have altered the trend of Dublin’s dominance over them, but it’s been paper-thin stuff. Wexford scraped past the Dubs in the 2018 championship, while the sides drew in Parnell Park last May.
Wexford’s profile may be far higher now, especially after last year’s run, but Dublin won’t believe they are that far ahead of them. The hiding they took from Kilkenny in their opening match forced a revision of where Dublin are at, but I wouldn’t pay too much heed to it — even when I was involved with Dublin, a collapse against Kilkenny every now and again almost seemed to be part of Dublin’s DNA.
Wexford will be delighted to get another run-out in Croke Park, but this is a bigger game for Dublin — especially in the context of trying to reach a league quarter-final. If the Dubs don’t win here, they’ll need to go to Ennis next week and get a result, which won’t be easy given Clare’s current form.
Dublin will never get huge credit for beating Laois and Carlow, but if they don’t perform again Saturday evening, all the question marks after the Kilkenny game will resurface. Dublin need to win, but even if they don’t, they need to battle and perform to a high level.
Brian Lohan experimented a lot last weekend against Laois, but he has some hard decisions to make now when they head to Nowlan Park on Sunday. Liam Corry was a success at corner-back, but does Lohan back Shane Golden again at full-back? He has all the attributes to be a full-back — strong, pacy, good in the air, a good hurler. But does Golden have the presence and defensive nous against the kind of assassins Kilkenny have knocking around the square?
If Clare can win, especially after the result in Wexford Park, confidence will go through the roof. It’s difficult to know what team Kilkenny will play, but Cody may decide to roll out his full Ballyhale crew after losing in Wexford Park. If he does, you’d have to fancy Kilkenny at home.
Galway-Waterford is a hard game to call, but it’s certainly a big game for Galway, especially after the manner of the Limerick defeat. Both teams will be fresh having had a two-week break, but it’s also given both managers more time to get their big guns back.
Westmeath will take huge heart from their performance against Cork, but Tipperary will still expect to win in Nenagh. Looking at the odds for Laois-Carlow, the bookies had Laois massive favourites. That is on current league form, but Colm Bonnar and Carlow will have targeted this match from day one as their potential get-out-of-jail card for staying in Division 1.
When you look at the match-ups this weekend, there is very little between all of the sides. Tradition still counts for so much, but modern sport, elite preparation, superior coaching standards, and the increasing levels of professionalism in the GAA has levelled the playing field in hurling. You’d nearly want to be Nostradamus to predict who’s going to win this year’s All-Ireland.