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Murph’s Sideline Cut: the craic is 1990s as hurling gets back to the future in Limerick

The hurling championship was blown wide open in the sunshine yesterday, writes Ciaran Murphy.

Limerick fans celebrate after the final whistle yesterday.
Limerick fans celebrate after the final whistle yesterday.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

ENGLISH PEOPLE WOULD tell you that it’s not enough for cricket to be played in summertime – it has to be played in the sunshine.

So it’s only fair that on the most beautiful weekend of the year thus far (and let’s face it, the best of the year full stop… it’s only downhill from here), our real summer sport took centre-stage.

There’s something about hurling that cries out for it to be played not only in summer, but in the sun.  And there was something really uplifting about the weekend we’ve just had, not least because it gave us plenty of hope that there could be a few twists and turns in this championship.

There was more than a hint of the 1990s in that magnificent Limerick victory over Tipperary yesterday.  Quite apart from the idea that a county from Division 1B like Limerick could take down Tipperary, there was the sunshine, the pitch invasion, the baying crowd, and the high premium placed on blood and guts.

When you look back on that decade (and if you haven’t read it, Denis Walsh really has written the book on it – ‘Hurling: The Revolution Years’ is a classic), it’s like living in a world where Seville, Malaga and Atletico Madrid could share the La Liga title for the next 5 years.  I don’t think we’re on the verge of anything similar at all, but it was nice to dream, and the disrespect that Offaly and Limerick showed to Kilkenny and Tipperary on Sunday really impressed me.

The brave and the Faithful

The opening 20 minutes of the Kilkenny/Offaly game was just great — how often in the last 13 years have we seen Kilkenny finish games off after 10 minutes with early goals?  The key, as far as they have been concerned, is not to give anyone a sniff, to annihilate at source the opposing team’s belief and confidence.  It was Offaly who got the early goals this time around, and they were the better team for the first half.  What really hurt them was their indiscipline, which gave Eoin Larkin chance after chance to keep Kilkenny in the game.  Offaly ended up going in at half-time one point up, when really the gap should have been four or five.

But when the backlash from Kilkenny came it was not the whirlwind we suspected — no goal, no goal chances even, a continued reliance on frees, and not the sort of ruthless quelling of an inferior team that we’ve grown accustomed to.  In many ways the performance had echoes of the drawn All-Ireland final from last year, without the galvanising presence of Shefflin to bail them out.

The concession of four goals is most strange as well, and it’s that as much as anything else that will give hope to opponents that maybe Kilkenny have slipped another couple of notches from last year.  As we wrote here last year, they’re not the team they were between ’07 and ‘09… but they’re still a bloody good team.

Offaly’s Joe Bergin dejected. Pic: INPHO/Ken Sutton

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Offaly set the template, but in the end the gulf in class between them and Kilkenny was too far to bridge.  The gap between Limerick and Tipperary was never going to be as wide as that, and if Limerick brought Offaly’s attitude onto the pitch, you felt there was a chance that they could snatch a really famous victory.  It was clear from the opening moments that Limerick were going to do just that.  And when the time came for the game to be won, all of the men with their hands up volunteering to put it to bed were wearing green.

The way they tore into Tipperary in the final quarter was something to behold – and it was real mid-90s stuff too, physical, uncompromising.  It reminded you of how much of a debt Brian Cody owed the teams that came before him.  The team that he built took so much from watching the way Clare asked questions of teams, mentally and physically, for 70 minutes and also how Offaly showed the premium that must be placed on pure hurling ability and first touch.  It’s how he married those two things together in his teams that moved the game on again, and now those counties — Offaly, Limerick, Clare and others — have to meet the challenge of getting to the level Kilkenny (and Tipperary, in 2009 and 2010) have set.

Gaelic football has six or seven good teams, out of 33 teams competing for the Sam Maguire this year.  When there’s barely a third of that number playing for the All-Ireland hurling title, it’s too much to ask for a half dozen teams of roughly similar quality.  But this weekend has at least given us a taste of what a supreme competition the hurling can be when we don’t know what’s coming next.

  • This week Murph was – not particularly surprised, but still bemused by Liam Dunne’s assertion that after his Wexford team’s draw with Dublin, the replay must be held in Croke Park.  If only 7,000 people came to Wexford Park to watch the drawn game, why would he want a crowd of similar size lost in Croke Park?  It highlighted once again what a tough job the GAA has sometimes in setting these fixtures — the football managers of Leinster want Dublin taken out of Croker, and the hurling managers want them put in there.

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