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Murph’s Sideline Cut: You can thank Brian Cody for the game of the year yesterday

We were treated to a thriller by Cork and Dublin. But one team pushed everyone else to this level.

Cyril in the sombrero: Cork's fans celebrate in Croke Park.
Cyril in the sombrero: Cork's fans celebrate in Croke Park.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

WE SHOULD TAKE a moment after yesterday’s first All-Ireland hurling semi-final to thank the team that made a game like that possible… and that team, of course, is Kilkenny.

Because a game of that quality, of that physicality, just would not have happened without the staggering rise in standards brought about by the team we were all so eager to see out of this year’s championship.

I’ll say it myself — I was happier than anyone to see them gone.  Galway couldn’t take any satisfaction from winning the Leinster final once the All-Ireland final replay went the way it did last year.  How could they?  And in a similar way, if Limerick or Dublin were put ruthlessly back in their place by Kilkenny in the latter stages of this year’s championship, it would be hard for them to feel as if their progression was something they could believe in for next year.

Kilkenny will be back in 2014 of course — but the stranglehold they have had over the psyche of their opponents is broken now, and what we’re left with is the game they have done so much to mould in the last 10 years.  Dublin’s physicality was forged in the fire of so many unsuccessful encounters with Kilkenny over the last five or six years, while Cork’s first touch and pure hurling ability is as good as it is because Kilkenny have made it an absolute prerequisite to succeed in the modern game.

This was the game of the year so far, in a year garlanded by great games.  The first half in particular, with 27 scores in 35 minutes, was magnificent. Much of the post-match focus centred on the sending off of Ryan O’Dwyer, and in fairness the yellow card for Liam Rushe that could easily have been red.

Hurling has a problem with this, I’m afraid, and it has a lot to do with the almost religious fervour that the game’s followers have for it.  We hear people crying out for referees to show some common-sense, and to ‘let the game flow’ — everyone was very quick to applaud James Owens yesterday for his first half display.  But you can’t have it both ways.

‘Common-sense’ is far too nebulous a concept to rule a game by.  ‘Refereeing by common-sense’ unfortunately means that you’re left with a situation where if Cork’s William Egan had swung his hurley behind him in the same reckless fashion as Liam Rushe had, at the same stage of the game with Dublin down to 14 men, the referee couldn’t have sent him off quickly enough.  It would have been a guaranteed red-card.  But what’s good for the goose has to be good for the gander.

I really like Michael Duignan as a pundit, but when he said as Owens was weighing up the Rushe incident that the referee had put himself in a very difficult position, I had to disagree – Liam Rushe had put Liam Rushe in a very difficult position.  The ref’s job at that stage was pretty simple I would have thought.

Capital gains

Dublin will wonder if this was their greatest ever chance of winning an All-Ireland, but they shouldn’t dwell too long on that.  They have done extraordinary things this year, and unlike their reaction to the National Hurling League win of 2011, they’re a seasoned, professional outfit that will look at how to improve next year, not rest on their laurels.

They’ve beaten Kilkenny in the championship, won their first Leinster title in 60 years, and have in their number some of the best hurlers in the country, without a shadow of a doubt.  They’ll have All Stars at full-back, centre-back, across the half-forward line… and they’ll start next year’s championship in the Leinster semi-final.  Win that game and they’re hurling into late July, one way or the other.  That’s not a bad starting point for 2014, as far away as that may seem to their players this morning.

So after two weeks of Dublin/Cork summit meetings, and 130,000 happy customers, Dublin won the football and Cork won the hurling.  I would never dream of saying it to the respective players, but deep down (in places they don’t talk about at parties) the counties’ fans will be happy enough with that.

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