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Murph's Sideline Cut: The team they couldn't hang still top Cats in year of summer of surprises

Can anyone end Kilkenny’s summer, once and for all?

Limerick's Gavin O'Mahony is carried from the field by fans.
Limerick's Gavin O'Mahony is carried from the field by fans.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

SUMMER HAS FOR a few years now been a pretty nebulous concept in this country.  Sure, we knew when it was supposed to happen, give or take, but the actual mechanics of it – warm weather, sunburn, shorts, etc – were sadly denied us for most of the time.

And similar to real summers, real summertime sporting drama seemed like an ideal rather than a reality, most of the time.

The Tour de France would be on, and we’d ignore it.  Wimbledon would come and go and not really capture our imagination.  England would be playing someone in the cricket and we’d end up watching a few hours of it out of boredom, more than out of any real interest.

The hurling championship would promise much, but would be sunk by too few genuinely competitive games, and too few counties celebrating at the end of the big finals. And then… there are years like this year.

Because 2013 was doomed to be the year after the greatest summer of all time in these parts; no Olympics on our doorstep, no two-week holiday for the entire country in Poland.

Instead we have Andy Murray winning Wimbledon (and whatever way you felt about that – at least it had you watching), an Irish winner of a stage in the Tour de France, the Ashes, a hugely dramatic Lions tour that had Irishmen at the heart of its major stories, and the jewel in the crown of the Irish sporting summer – a genuinely competitive All-Ireland hurling competition.

Now I’ve read quite a few panegyrics to this year’s championship which have managed to avoid mentioning the rather inconvenient truth in amongst all this euphoria – that, for all the new dawns we’ve seen in the last two months, the team that’s won nine All-Irelands in the last 13 years is the team best placed to win it again.  That’s not their fault, and they’ve certainly contributed handsomely to the drama thus far — but some people might think it’s not the result this year deserves.

Maybe it’s exactly what this year deserves.

There is no doubt that Kilkenny are not the team they were, but they are (as I saw them described on twitter on Saturday night) ‘The Team They Couldn’t Hang.’  Saturday night’s game against Waterford was actually pretty terrible for about 60 minutes, but Waterford’s outrageous come-back(s), the last-minute drama when Kilkenny were denied the winning score by an errant full-time whistle from the referee, and their subsequent extra-time excellence further burnished this summer.  See… even the bad games are good!

There is no longer any doubt about whether this team is past its best or not – and I say that, knowing that I have seen the future and it mostly consists of me being a curmudgeonly old fool any time anyone in the next 60 years ever suggests that we might have seen a team better than the Kilkenny 2007-2009 team.

What is of far greater importance now is whether there is a team out there to beat Kilkenny THIS YEAR.  And that is very much up for debate.  We saw at times in the first half of the Munster final yesterday that Cork are able to use the ball very economically, and probably have enough culture in their wrists to ensure they don’t lorry ball down on top of that peerless Kilkenny defence.  But is it too much to ask a team that youthful to finally put a halt to the greatest team of them all?

Cork’s conquerors will be riding a wave of popular support into Croker in August, after that extraordinary outpouring of emotion from the Limerick crowd yesterday.  I thought the days of pitch invasions before the final whistle had even been blown were a thing of the past, but there was a real throw-back feel to the Gaelic Grounds yesterday.  They won’t fear Kilkenny either, but one of the teams left has to transform that new-found belief in their ability to live with them, into a belief they can actually beat them.  That’s the telling part of this journey we’re all on this glorious summer, and it’s the one part we’re still not sure about.

  • This Week Murph Was – genuinely gutted for my first cousin Raymond, hurling coach with the Waterford hurlers.  He and Michael Ryan have done extraordinary work with that team, and I hope they get another year at it.  Also – those legs need to be seen by a wider audience.  You just can’t beat those Murphy genes.

Wrap: Kerry, Dublin, Monaghan and Galway crowned champions in ladies SFC finals

Here’s what a pitch invasion looks like…Limerick style

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