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Brosnan on GAA: When the talking stops, all that's left is the truth

Maurice Brosnan gets set for a blockbuster start to the 2022 hurling championships.

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Maurice Brosnan’s GAA newsletter is written exclusively for members of The42, but is being made available in full to all readers today to mark the start of the 2022 Championships.

To join The42 Membership with a 50% discount on annual plan, use the code CHAMPIONSHIP2022 at members.the42.ie. Discount valid until Sunday 17 April.

FROM SMOULDERING FRAGMENTS to raging inferno.

The Liam MacCarthy Cup returns this weekend with its round robin system that worked so well before the pandemic. The blockbuster main event after an underwhelming undercard.

Thanks to that, the nature and structure of the league was scrutinised. It felt like a phoney war. It will likely look like a gentle grappling compared to the battle we expect in this weekend’s showdowns.

Much of the pre-championship focus has been on the sidelines rather than the field. During this week’s hurling episode of The42’s GAA Weekly podcast, Fintan O’Toole offered the big question facing Galway: what will be Henry Shefflin’s Year One impact?

‘I think back to the week he was announced. The only comparable shock was Davy going to Wexford or the time Dónal Óg was announced as Clare coach,’ he said of that hectic week when Galway announced the Kilkenny legend as their new manager.

In many ways, the cult of the manager has taken centre stage. Consider the months after the All-Ireland final and the storylines that followed. Davy’s departure from Wexford and subsequent flirtations out west. Liam Cahill’s statement of content when he opted to turn down Tipperary and stay with Waterford. Colm Bonnar at the helm at his native county. There were notable additions across the country: Gary Keegan returning to Cork, Saoirse Bulfin linking up with Meath, Tipperary forming an impressive backroom team including Tommy Dunne, Johnny Enright and Paul Curran.

And, chiefly, the start of Shefflin’s reign out west. A big signing that also sent a signal. Despite a bitterly disappointing 2021 and the retirement of Joe Canning, Galway were still the team that came within three points of Limerick in the 2020 semi-final and one point in the 2018 final. There is potential if primed correctly.

Kevin Lally, who managed St Thomas’ to three Galway SHC titles from 2018-20, joined the ticket. David Morris of Corofin fame and former captain Damien Joyce also came on board. The supporters were invigorated and players reenergised.

The off-season and early season has been all about the bosses.

Is this attention unprecedented? Probably not. The post 2007/2008 season is a still the stand-out. A shock quarter-final defeat against Wexford rang an obvious knell that Michael ‘Babs’ Keating’s disastrous second reign with Tipp was over. Player power came to the fore and outdated methods were challenged rather than accepted. Within twelve months, Ger Loughnane would depart Galway in similar circumstances. John McIntrye resigned from a sliding Offaly in 2007 and succeeded the Clareman. A lack of player support saw Justin McCarthy resign from Waterford at the end of the 2008 season. Gerald McCarthy and the Cork strike saga rumbled until 2009.

All of this hullabaloo dominated the airwaves and headlines for the same reasons it does now. It was undeniably newsworthy and, crucially from a media perspective, it was needed. There was only so many ways you could praise that awesome Kilkenny side. Their devasting victory over Waterford left only one real takeaway: this side are awesome. The same aura now surrounds Limerick.

And still.

It has been my long-held belief that too much analysis in the media is focused on the strategic level. Injuries, or lack of them, are a much bigger factor in a team’s success than they’re ever given credit for. When charting Jim Gavin’s remarkable stint, one of the standouts details is the fact that no player missed an All-Ireland final due to a soft-tissue injury. As good as Liam Cahill and Mikey Bevan’s coaching is, the main factor in Waterford’s improvement this year is Tadhg de Búrca’s return. The greatest chance of Limerick being toppled this year is if the injury doubts around Kyle Hayes and Seamus Flanagan are legitimate.

There are many contributing elements. Nevertheless, the essence is the player on the pitch. As Galway forward Conor Whelan said earlier this year, the buzz around the management is beneficial, but the onus is on the group to make it count.

“It is nice to have someone like Henry and lots of familiar faces.

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“I think a lot of the focus has to be on us as players, improving and driving standards ourselves. That is not down to the management team or the lads carrying the hurls. That is down to us as players.

“That is very much our focus and responsibility.”

After all, that is what will define the next few months. Cian Lynch’s flicks and Ronan Maher’s catches. Patrick Horgan’s wrists and Sean Finn’s tackles. Eoin Murphy’s saves and Dessie Hutchinson’s speed. Can Eoin Cody take the next step and lead the Kilkenny attack? When will Tony Kelly’s supporting cast have a decisive say? What will Austin Gleeson do?

That is where our attention will turn and the debate will unfold. We can move on from the managers, the rules systems and structures. Now finally, it is about what happens between the white lines.

It’s great to have it back.

Enjoy the games,

Maurice

Get 50% off an annual membership to The42 this week by using the code CHAMPIONSHIP2022 at members.the42.ieDiscount valid until Sunday 17 April.

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Maurice Brosnan

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