Culbaire: Dramatic games boost hurling’s image

Another code has appropriated the tag “beautiful”. In any case one would need a more energetic and even frenetic term for that of the caman. “Furious”, perhaps for its pace and physical commitment, with stickwork as an added feature. Frequency of scoring, the ever present possibility of it as compared to the arid stretches of repetitively fruitless possession - modestly, we can claim an unparalleled private treasure of our own, unknown to most of the sporting world. Yes, we have, in the imported American phrase, the bragging rights.

Another code has appropriated the tag “beautiful”. In any case one would need a more energetic and even frenetic term for that of the caman. “Furious”, perhaps for its pace and physical commitment, with stickwork as an added feature. Frequency of scoring, the ever present possibility of it as compared to the arid stretches of repetitively fruitless possession - modestly, we can claim an unparalleled private treasure of our own, unknown to most of the sporting world. Yes, we have, in the imported American phrase, the bragging rights.

I write the above in sheer enthusiasm at the heights of excitement and the sudden twists and turns of fortune experienced on successive weekends. The fact of being out of the race made neutrality anything but a mood of indifference to the games played between the surviving counties. The Stadium’s amazing twin draws and extra times were followed by an epic Munster final - an occasion recalling to us seniors the massed legions basking in Limerick sun as Tipp. tangled with Cork in the ‘49-58 era. As victims to Allen’s side at the outset we have played a role in Limerick’s breakthrough - losing to eventual champions is a mild salve to our disappointment. We now have Munster Company in the discard after Waterford suffered a second defeat. Limerick advance to an August semi-final. Cork are next to test Kilkenny’s current quality; Clare take on Galway in a cross Shannon duel. A double header at the Stadium on July 28th appears the ideal arrangement. If the venue lost the Munster final, it is getting ample compensation in those inter-provincial quarter finals.

Teams are getting closer to Kilkenny but close doesn’t alter the bottom line. The days of huge margins for the Cats have been replaced by much smaller. “Sufficient is enough”, of course and Kilkenny would regard a series of tight issues as only adding further to prestige if the end product is another All-Ireland. The question is - who beats them? The Decies made an admirable stub at it but were out-lasted in the session they had dramatically secured. Some of Waterfords early play was not only brilliant but confident - accurate low balls to each other for upfield moves that merited more scores than transpired.

The heavy blow of the reversed first decision on the goal resulting from apparent escape after the penalty did not lead to a negative restart. But the Cats gradually exerted pressure and gained flags towards town for apparent security. Ray Barry, though, was a sub. of huge impact in capping Decies revival with the levelling goal on top of his successive points. Kevin Moran was the outfield leader of the rally. Extra time ran the Cats’ way, only called in question briefly by a Dillon goal to keep Waterford within reach. The relief was only temporary and Kilkenny wrapped it through Colin Fennelly, Math Ruth and Aidan Fogarty. The Decies quest for a saving third goal foundered on the defensive power and class of Tyrell, Joyce and Walsh. Shefflin’s stint was quite brief. Cody tactfully reserving him for another day or two or three? Great game, a credit to both.

Clare had earlier been hauled back to parity by a sensational late, late Guiney goal but dominated the added period with two McInerney goals and plenty over the bar. Alerted by this slippage of concentration, the Banner may well prove good enough to terminate Galway’s erratic run. As to Cork v Kilkenny it’s a rivalry going back to the earliest days and producing many great games, I’d class 1947 and Terry Leahy’s winner perhaps rivalling their 1931 three game series, won by Cork. Right now, though, Cork will be up against a side intent on disproving suggestions of serious decline. Such aspersions are new to them and are bound to provoke retort.

The size of the Munster final crowd was a rejection of recession. It indicated also Limerick hunger for a title unachieved since ‘96. The win over Tipp. had boosted confidence and whetted appetite among players and followers. Cork’s would have been little less ardent after the tribulations of recent years and with hope revived by their display against Clare. Tipp. absence was a novelty at this stage. The clash of these quests made for a very gripping decider of constant movement and eager tackling.

A pity, though, that matters should be distorted by a sending off for Horgan on the verge of the interval.

His offence was less of a pull than a technical affair of a contact with no great force with the back of Paudie O’Brien’s head or helmet. Looked worse than it was and the letter of the “striking” law was enforced by ref. McGrath. One sensed it wasn’t to be J.B.M.’s day, his side on level terms on the board but minus one on the field.

The shortage has often been less than obvious in later play and sometimes in the result, but this wasn’t the case as Limerick defence exploited the loss. Cork’s attack became less of a menace than before while Limerick, led by Hannon and the forceful James Ryan on the half line. Allen’s use of his reserve material was ultimately decisive, Downes and Dowling scores delighting their supporters with the certainty of the much desired success. From two to the terminal nine was the gulf while Cork strove in vain to bolster their fading attack. The tall Cussen made an appearance. Could be that they’ll call on him for physical purposes against Kilkenny. Limerick had a star at the rear in full back McCarthy, as strong and daring as against Tipp.

He reminded one of the style of T.J. Ryan in that berth. The victory is a popular one and raises hopes of a better Croke Park experience than when severely dealt with by the Cats in a final, as so many others were, too, in Kilkenny’s imperious years. This provincial championship ought to shut up for good those - like Antrim’s Waterford Manager and the occasional columnist, who agitate for an Open Draw, champions League format or some other variation. It’s the close knit, neighbourly clash that draws the people and provides an ideal preamble to the later stage of the process.

This Wednesday evening brings Cork to Thurles for the Under 21 final. We could use an uplift at that level after the downfall of seniors and minors - should be capable of getting it. On Friday there is the Intermediate decider involving the same pair. Mention of minor, by the way, brings to mind the provincial replay between Limerick and Waterford on Tuesday evening, also at the Stadium well worth a neutral visit to our H.Q. after the quality displayed at the Gaelic Grounds.