Nightmare leads to dream final

IT’S ON. Tipperary and Kilkenny will meet in the All-Ireland final, and for all sorts of reasons hard-wired into the DNA of both counties, both counties will be glad.

The Cats would rather beat Tipp than any other county to win four-in-a-row. And Tipperary, more than anybody else, would want to be the county to put a stop to their smoothly-purring gallop, if we can cross species for metaphorical purposes.

Cut us some slack. After yesterday’s mismatch we’re looking for consolation anywhere we can get it. Tipperary beat Limerick back to the Stone Age yesterday in a game that didn’t make it to the 20th minute as a contest.

The final score was 6-19 to 2-7, or at least we think it was. The scoreboard operator ran out of light bulbs with 10 minutes to go as we entered a realm of fantastical numbers familiar only to Stephen Hawking. Or maybe Liam Carroll.

It’s our own fault. For the last couple of weeks we were talking Limerick up like Canadian investors looking over an Allied Irish Bank prospectus, and we’re not the first to discover that the value of investments can fall as well as rise.

There had been a lot of confident asserting that, based on their history, Limerick heads wouldn’t drop if Tipperary jumped out an early lead, but yesterday’s collapse was on a par with Dublin a couple of weeks ago, another side to find themselves smothered as they defended Hill 16.

Clearly somebody tore up a fairy fort at the Railway End when the pitch was relaid after the U2 concert, and that somebody needs to put it back.

Limerick paid tribute to Waterford’s largely successful template against Kilkenny early on yesterday, pulling players back the field, with David Breen out in the middle, Seamus Hickey picking up Seamus Callanan, and Brian Geary loose between the two defensive lines.

However, they took their homage a step too far when Stephen Lucey replicated Aidan Kearney’s first-half error last week. Lucey misjudged a routine delivery right down the middle and the ball ran through to Eoin Kelly behind him. Alone. Twenty metres from goal.

What do you mean what happened next?

On fourteen minutes Lar Corbett left green jerseys twisting in his vapour trail and placed Noel McGrath for a forehand smash to the net; two minutes later Mark Foley dallied for a heartbeat too long on the 21-metre line and had his pocket picked in front of goal by Pat Kerwick, who finished with extreme prejudice.

At the end of the first quarter, then, Limerick were three goals behind and the game was dead as Dillinger.

The score was 3-8 to 0-4 at half-time and Tipp added a further 3-11 to their total after the break.

“We missed a few chances and we were on the back foot after 20 minutes,” said Limerick boss Justin McCarthy afterwards. “By half-time, realistically, as a contest the game was over. At half-time we thought we could come back as good as we could, but it was a big hill to climb at that stage.”

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy was delighted with the win, but he wasn’t gloating in the immediate aftermath.

“Anyone watching sport would know that that wasn’t Limerick today. I feel for Justin and the lads. It’s happened to me as a manager a few times — nothing happens for you and it doesn’t work out, and Limerick had one of those days.

“There’s big guys in that dressing-room, there’s character in that dressing-room and have no doubt they’ll be back. That just wasn’t their form.”

True enough. But to throw some business jargon into the mix, for Tipperary going forward, the poverty of Limerick’s challenge yesterday means that questions remain for Sheedy and his management team.

For instance, we all expected Tipperary to fade a little in the second half, as they’ve done in previous games this year, and when Limerick burgled a couple of goals the Premier’s mini-hiatus seemed to have arrived right on cue.

At least it did until Lar Corbett buried another two goals within seven minutes. Does that mean the second-half slacking-off problem is solved?

Tipperary’s half-forward line has been criticised for disappearing in recent games, with Seamus Callanan in particular being fingered for vanishing into a phone booth and re-emerging in his civvies rather than a cape and tights. Yet he was also available for the Corbett pass Noel McGrath finished to the net in the first half, and he slipped into splendid isolation on a couple of other occasions as well, scoring fine points in the second half.

At the other end of the field Sheedy’s deployment of Padraic Maher on the edge of the square worked well, but when your team wins a game by 25 points, how much pressure has your full-back been under?

Expect something different on September 6th when Kilkenny take the field.

“They are the team,” said Sheedy. “And rightfully so. They’ve earned that over the last four years. It’s no fluke they’re going for four-in-a-row.”

And it’s no fluke that Kilkenny’s appetite for work has burnt itself across the retinas of the pretenders. Lar Corbett testified to that after the game.

“I don’t think that work-rate would win an All-Ireland on September 6th,” said Corbett, whose personal contribution was a spectacularly lazy 3-1 from play. “We know what Kilkenny are doing to teams year in, year out. We’re under no illusions.

“We see Kilkenny do it year in, year out – the man in the best position gets the ball. That’s it. Today the man in the best position got the ball and if you start from that you’ve a chance of winning any game.”

Eudie Coughlan had a succinct comparison of the up-and-coming Kilkenny side he and his Cork team-mates beat in 1931. They were coming in, he said, and we were going out.

Kilkenny were not the blood and iron regiment of 2008 against Waterford in this year’s semi-final, and as the year goes on the men in blue and gold look more and more like an irresistible tide. But are Tipp really coming in this year? Are Kilkenny really going out? Questions to savour.

Anything to put yesterday out of the mind: those familiar with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane will remember the scene in which Kane’s girlfriend makes her opera-singing debut; the camera tracks upwards from the stage to a pair of stagehands far above, listening to her murder the aria from Salaambo. One stagehand simply looks at his comrade and then holds his nose.

There was a lot of that going around yesterday.

ROY KEANE’S recent departure from Sunderland led to the usual ham-fisted comparisons with Cork people in general, and the current Cork hurling stand-off in particular.

The constituent parts of the rant can be assembled like a Lego castle: what is it in the water down there, always arguing, Rebels by name, look at the carry-on of Stephen Ireland, and so on.

In some ways the lazy arguments have a grain of truth: there’s often trouble in Cork. In GAA terms that trouble goes back a long way.

Anyone who picks up the Christy Ring/Peil DVD reissued by Gael Linn for Christmas will enjoy the plentiful extras on the disc, such as newsreel action from games in the ’50s and ‘60s, as well as a brief documentary on Ring himself, which begins with crowds swarming down the Marina to a Cork-Tipp NHL clash circa 1960. Beyond the choice details such as overloaded rowing boats bringing spectators across the river Lee, not to mention the players’ healthy approach to physical confrontation on the field of play, one aspect of the approach road to the then-Athletic Grounds ground caught our eye.

It is no exaggeration to say that the little dip in the road down from the Marina itself to the Athletic Grounds was in far better nick almost half a century ago, smoothly paved and devoid of potholes, than the cracked and pockmarked road that now leads down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Plenty of people have seized on the condition of Cork’s riverside stadium as an apt symbol for the GAA on Leeside at present: outwardly imposing yet riven with cracks, cutting-edge in its long-ago heyday, but now trailing behind; lumbering and forbidding, remote and uncomfortable.

That kind of personification may appear first to be more relevant to the offbeat psychogeography of Iain Sinclair and Will Self, writers who chronicle the emotional effect of different environments on the people who live in them, but you can tease out the parallels by visiting some significant places on the Cork sporting map.

A journey from the grey hulk of Páirc Uí Chaoimh into the city centre takes you along the Marina and up to Maylor Street, where Munster Rugby maintains an impressive commercial presence in the heart of the city. There’s plenty of branded merchandise for sale in the official Munster shop, as well as posters announcing, far in advance, the team’s next game.

Another snappy stroll takes one along the South Mall and over Parliament Bridge to the official Cork City FC shop.

Cork City has suffered plenty of financial troubles this year, including the ignominy of examinership, but it still maintains a highly visible outlet in the city centre to keep its brand and identity alive. There are plenty of City-branded goods on offer and nobody passing within 50 yards of the shop would be in any doubt about the details of the club’s next outing. The venture is supported by the top administrators in the domestic game: FAI chief executive John Delaney carried out the formal opening.

There is no corresponding GAA commercial outlet in Cork city, the second-biggest urban area in the Republic and a long-standing Gaelic games stronghold. There are plenty of sports shops selling jerseys and tracksuits, but nothing dedicated to the sale of Cork county or club clothing, tickets or other merchandise in the city centre.

Some weeks ago Páirc Uí Chaoimh hosted the county senior hurling and football finals, but you would not have been aware of it upon landing into the city that day. Nothing extra was done to draw people out of their homes and down the Marina for the game. Perhaps a simple billboard or poster on one of the city’s main thoroughfares to alert thousands of passers-by to the line-up, time and venue? As if.

That outlook bespeaks laziness when it comes to consumers, a dangerous attitude to have as recession gnaws at people’s disposable income, and taking your clients for granted can turn them off. Then again, consider the Cork County Board’s history with its own players.

IF YOU head back from the Cork City FC shop on the quay and back into the city centre, a turn or two will bring you to Cook Street, for many years the location for administrative meetings of the Cork County Board.

There is a long and inglorious litany of tense exchanges between players and administrators in Cork, and contrary to what propagandists would have us believe, the two sides have clashed for at least a century. Most people casting their minds back for examples cite the great dash for the train when the Cork footballers headed for Heuston Station rather than play extra time against Dublin in Croke Park in a national league back in the ’80s, or the tangled ‘three stripes affair’ of the ’70s, when Cork footballers faced suspension for wearing Adidas gear.

But the acrimony goes back much further. In the early years of the last century Jamesie Kelleher of Dungourney and Cork, one of the greatest hurlers of his time, sent a letter to local media filled with stinging criticism of GAA administrators within the county. The issues raised are wearyingly familiar even in the 21st century, with the poor treatment of players preparing for games top of his hit-list.

In 1931 the great Cork star Eudie Coughlan retired at the relatively early age of 31. His reason should ring a bell with anyone who followed last season’s stand-off closely; Coughlan took issue with the county board’s decision to remove from his club, Blackrock, the right to pick the Cork team in favour of a selection committee and stepped behind the line as a consequence.

Just over ten years after Coughlan’s retirement, another All-Ireland captain landed into Cook Street to question the conditions under which the Cork hurlers were preparing for an All-Ireland final. Jack Lynch would say later that he got “short shrift” from the board when he suggested that it was unsatisfactory for the Cork players to have their clothing soaked by a leaky dressing-room ceiling as they trained in the Athletic Grounds.

The dual star’s clear-eyed view of what was right and wrong showed up elsewhere. Readers of the new biography of Lynch, written by UCC Professor Dermot Keogh, will find the story of the player travelling to games to play for Cork in a taxi paid for by the county board. Their rules dictated, however, that only players could travel in said taxi, and Lynch recognised the ridiculousness of the situation, travelling alone in the cab as it passed his friends and acquaintances cycling or walking to the very same match. Cork succeeded in spite of those obstacles. Coughlan captained Cork to an epic win over Kilkenny in 1931, and Lynch collected the Liam McCarthy Cup 11 years later as well.

Even the greatest of them all had a withering view of Rebel administrators. Val Dorgan’s biography of Christy Ring includes the story of the maestro being stopped by a jobsworth on the turnstiles in Pairc Uí Chaoimh.

“Leave that man in,” said a county board official who happened upon the scene, “That’s Christy Ring, he won eight All-Irelands with Cork.”

Ring’s riposte was immortal: “And if I wasn’t carrying fellas like you I’d have won another eight.”

The obvious point to make is that the current officers of the Cork County Board are not the same men who tangled with Jamesie Kelleher and Eudie Coughlan. It is exactly 100 years since Kelleher wrote to ‘The Cork Sportsman’ and referred to the board with the words: “It’s time to wake up, take the bags from these gentlemen and show them the outside of the gates.”

While it sometimes appears that the rate of change is glacial at county board level, it’s not that glacial.

However, a particular culture can be perpetuated from generation to generation within any organisation. The reluctance of the Cork County Board to market its own greatest asset — the games it oversees — is an effect of that culture, a symptom that’s easily remedied: it just requires action.

However, the county board’s long history of conflict with its own players is different, and lies at the root of the divisions within the GAA in Cork. It proves that a toxic legacy of disrespect has become the prevailing culture within the organisation, that lessons have not been learned from the past, and that confrontation with prominent hurlers goes back to the beginning of the last century.

Those who blame the Cork senior hurlers for the current stand-off might bear that in mind.

Michael Moynihan is author of Blood Brothers: The Inside Story of the Cork Hurlers 1986-2008 (Gill and MacMillan, 16.99).

D ON’T STOP believing.

The banner hanging in white
and blue on Hill 16 yesterday articulated five decades of longing for Waterford, and it was yesterday the heartbreak ended before 53,635 spectators. They edged out Tipperary in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final, 1-20 to 1-18, and now face neighbours Kilkenny in the final next month.

So much for the accountancy. Nails were gnawed to the bone and grown men wept as Waterford hung on for their historic win; it was their sixth semi-final in 10 years and when Tipp got their noses in front in the 58th minute, it looked like another evening for the Kleenex if you were in the white and blue corner. However Eoin Kelly – the Waterford version – continued his irresistible form of late to help the men from the southeast over the line with some late, late points.

They’d begun well enough: after the parade Waterford kept marching, right through the ranks of the Artane Boys Band, and the synchronisation continued into the game itself. With Ken McGrath returning to centre-back and Declan Prendergast on the edge of the square, Waterford’s alignment looked smooth, and they wired into the game.

“We tried to play a high tempo from the start,” said Waterford’s Ken McGrath after the game. “That’s always part of the plan! We tried to start well. We knew Tipp would come back into it, but all year we haven’t been panicking, which is a good sign for the team.”

A six points to 0-0 lead after eight minutes was another good sign for Waterford. Tipp corner-back Conor O’Brien had collected a yellow card, John Mullane’s direct running at every corner of the Premier County’s defence and Tipp were gasping for breath. If a stranger had been asked to name the side which had played three games since mid-July and to choose the outfit which had been idle in the same period, he would have had no problems picking out Waterford as match-fit.

Tipperary’s lay-off since their Munster final win was visible up front when even the elegant Seamus Callinan dropped a ball over the sideline, and at the back Tipp were carved open when Kelly and Dan Shanahan worked a point-scoring opportunity from a sideline.

They were so slow out of the blocks, in fact, that it took 12 minutes for their triumphant monosyllable to ring around the ground: an eternity in relative terms.

Coming to half-time, however, Tipp had the work-rate going. Waterford needed four players to effect a clearance from their left corner, and Lar Corbett sniffed an opening before Declan Prendergast and Clinton Hennessy slammed the door shut. At the break it was 10 points to 10. Tighter than an Olympic swimming hat.

“We were happy enough at half-time,” said McGrath. “We’d played well in the first quarter of an hour but then we slackened off. We knew what we had to do. There was no panicking.”

The exchanges were as keen after the restart, with the teams trading points, until Dan Shanahan delivered a forehand smash goalwards: Kelly forced a fine save from Brendan Cummins but was alert enough to reach across and poke home the rebound. The last lightbulb on the scoreboard had barely lit to announce that goal when Tipp retaliated. Seamus Callinan, more involved in the second half, slipped through and goaled in return.
With the game entering the last 10 minutes it took a decisive twist. Tipp were a point down and missed two chances to level; that was followed by another Callinan goal chance, but Hennessy saved. The ball rebounded to Michéal Webster but with the goal yawning, the ball then squirted like a bar of Palmolive out of his hand, aided by Declan Prendergast’s deft flick. Waterford then smuggled the ball away at the expense of a ’65, and when Eoin Kelly – of Tipp – put that wide, it was a dagger in blue and gold hearts, though it’d be cruel to assign blame to a man responsible for so many Tipp victories on his own.


THE last few minutes were viewed
through the fingers by many in
white and blue, but the final whistle sparked what could politely be termed scenes of jubilation, and what could accurately be termed joy unconfined.

A bad weekend for favourites, then, but a good one for romantics. Even Tipp boss Liam Sheedy articulated the neutrals’ views after the game: “Waterford are a class side – we knew that coming up, and nobody would begrudge them where they’re at. If there’s been a team of the last five-six years, it’s Waterford.”

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Ken McGrath. “After losing five semi-finals I suppose we had to get one right at some stage. Thankfully at the final whistle we weren’t crying into the jerseys. We’ll enjoy the next few days and go back training Tuesday or Wednesday.”

That blue and white banner, by the way, borrowed ‘Don’t stop believing’ from the chorus of an old Journey song, though most people now associate the song with the last episode of The Sopranos. Unsentimental executioners await the men in white and blue in the final: Kilkenny have called time on many opponents’ dreams and Waterford will be underdogs. However, like Scarlett O’Hara, they’ll worry about that tomorrow and concentrate on the next line of that Journey song.

Hold on to that feeling.

Y OU can forget the Lisbon
Treaty. You can forget the
Democratic primaries. The most pressing question of the last few months was answered in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday. Tipp are back, asserting themselves after early nerves to beat Cork in the Munster SHC in front of 42,823 spectators. Not a focus group or a super-delegate in sight.

In real terms Tipp have never really gone away, but yesterday had an air of revival all the same. The blue and gold supporters can look forward to a long hot summer, and the lyrics of Slievenamon will be echoing far beyond Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the next couple of months.

Though Cork threw starting debuts to two of their full-forward line, it was their old guard who conjured a goal early on. Timmy McCarthy broke the ball towards Ben O’Connor, who found an avenue through the Tipperary defence slightly wider than the Marina. One-on-one with Brendan Cummins, the Cork man held his nerve to finish calmly to the net.

With Cathal Naughton flummoxing Tipperary by operating in the middle of the field, Cork were on top, and the evidence was empirical: over 17 minutes had gone before the first chant of Tipp-Tipp-Tipp was heard.

“We showed a bit of nerves,” said Tipp boss Liam Sheedy, referring to his side’s rocky opening. “No matter how you do in the league, the Munster championship is a different animal. We were a bit jittery early on.”

True enough. Cork were rampant, running up a seven-point lead, but anyone expecting a collapse from the Premier was disappointed. Lar Corbett used his pace to range to and fro in front of the City End, and Eamonn Corcoran and Shane Maher came into the play. When a Seamus Callinan shot was half-blocked it ran to Eoin Kelly on the 21. The Mullinahone man was well-marshalled in the first half by Brian Murphy apart from those couple of heartbeats in the 24th minute; that’s all the time he needed to test the rigging.

“Eoin’s goal was the vital score,” said Sheedy. “The game might have been slipping a bit from us then, and if Cork had slipped over another point or two at that stage…”

At half-time there was a point in it (1-8 to 1-7). The game wasn’t in the melting-pot so much as the saucepan they use to melt down the other melting-pots.

Naughton blazed through for a point on the restart; Seamus Callinan retorted. Cork may draw comfort this morning from the great save Pa Cronin forced from Brendan Cummins, but three wides in a row saw the initiative slip away from them.

If the second half had a turning point it came on 42 minutes, when Pa Cronin won a Cork penalty. Surprisingly, debutant Paudie O’Sullivan took it, only for Cummins to save. In a neat reversal of 2005, when a Donal Óg Cusack penalty save spurred Cork to victory, Tipperary drew strength from Cummins’ stop, and their defence began to get on top.

Lar Corbett bore down on goal and was grounded in desperation. Seamus Callinan was winning more and more ball. With Tipp’s half-backs resolute, the supply improved to Eoin Kelly with inevitable results.

As Ol’ Blue Eyes never sang, Kelly and scores go together like a horse and carriage. Even the couple of hundred auxiliary Cork men forced to watch the game from the pitch perimeter — having been allowed out of the Blackrock Terrace by the gardaí — would have been hard pressed to keep him quiet had they been allowed beyond the whitewash.

At the end there was six points in it, and the Tipperary support drank in the victory as only Tipp fans can.

Cork will face a chorus of second-guessing: about the strike, about their selection, about their substitutions, about the decision to go for a goal from their penalty, but their real worry will be the lack of a second wind. This is the second time in 12 months that Tipperary have outpaced them coming down the stretch.

Having scored four points in the second half — and replaced four of their forwards during the game — they’ll hope improving their shot selection will bring them back into contention. If results go according to expectations they’ll face Waterford next month, a game that now assumes huge significance for both teams, as the losing side is likely to break up and face a rebuilding process.

A disappointed John Gardiner agreed with the Tipperary boss that Eoin Kelly’s goal had been critical.

“The first 10 or 15 minutes went well for us,” said the Cork captain. “But then Tipp turned the tables. The goal was the main turning point.”

“At the end we were chasing the game,” said his manager, Gerald McCarthy. “We tried very hard to turn it around, we made a lot of substitutions, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

For Tipperary the news is better, obviously enough. Liam Sheedy had his face to the heavens as the clock wound down yesterday, but divine intervention wasn’t needed.

“We finished quite strong,” said Sheedy. “We played a lot of tight games in the league, and I think that stood to us in the last 15 minutes. We’ve a lot of work done, and every one of them who went on the pitch today did well.”

Though Sheedy was careful to rein in expectations — he referred to Cork’s wides tally, pointing out that the game might have ended differently had the Rebels been more accurate — but even the downside can be given a positive spin.

The jittery opening Tipp went through yesterday can be improved for the Munster final. Shane McGrath confirmed the promise of spring. And the Premier County now look to have momentum, a handy asset facing into the high summer.

Cork bet. The hay saved. And better yet to come?


2007 Sports Highlight

March 27, 2008

MOMENT TO SAVIOUR: Pat Tobin celebrates after scoring Limerick’s match-saving goal against Tipperary.

The moment when
everyone seems to
settle deeper into their seat — happy there’s
a bit of time left

THE BOSS is only human. He finds the late pull as irresistible as the rest of us. When he asks his staff for their sporting highlight he usually plants the butt of the hurley between our ribs with something like: “Or in your case, the annual Waterford-Cork highlight.”

Cheeky bugger.

Off the proverbial top of the head, when it comes to a highlight of the year it’s hard to overlook Limerick-Tipp Mark II back in mid-June. The Premier were 10 points up with 15 minutes left, but then Limerick began to come hard at them, and it quickly became one of those rare communal experiences — impossible to replicate, difficult to describe, but unmistakable to anyone who’s been at a game like it. The realisation that something special is happening ripples through the crowd and everyone seems to both settle deeper into their seat — happy there’s a bit of time left — while craning forward to drink in the spectacle at the same time.

It looked like an exercise in gallantry for Limerick rather than an attempt to rescue their season, but Tipperary started to doubt, and the unlikeliest of draws materialised in the distance. It still didn’t look likely with 10 minutes left; in fact, it looked impossible. But Limerick did it.

Afterwards you saw stunned Tipp fans and players trying to make sense of the result. It couldn’t have happened. Could it? But when you’ve eliminated the impossible, as that fine wing-back Sherlock Holmes used to say, whatever remains, however unlikely, is the truth. With the evening sun stretching young men’s shadows into legend, we thought it couldn’t get better.

Not spectacular enough for you, maybe. Then how about one of the scores of the year: Dan Shanahan alone served up enough to choose from, and we’d go for that sweet ground stroke which beat Cork’s Dónal Óg Cusack low to the left in Croke Park (there’s something about that Railway End goal and the snappy pull: 17 years ago John Fitzgibbon planted a ball in the exact same spot in the exact same way).

It was a goal to prove to a generation of kids that pulling on the ball is a skill that must be practiced and acquired — and used properly. It proved to a generation of opponents that Dan has all the weapons in his armoury, but they probably suspected as much all along.

More? How about Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh or Ken McGrath’s spectacular catches the same day? Tommy Walsh in the same department on any day you care to choose? Pat Tobin’s late equaliser in Limerick-Tipperary Part One? Richie Bennis saying he wanted to go out and hurl himself after seeing it? The ovation Cork supporters gave the Semple Three at Waterford-Cork in the Munster championship? Richie hugging Babs Keating after the second Limerick-Tipp draw? Babs’ face when he did so? Or, above them all, how about the heartfelt tribute Henry Shefflin and his teammates paid to the late Vanessa McGarry on the day of the All-Ireland?

That afternoon after the game, as Shefflin limped from the dressing-room out the tunnel to go up the steps of the Hogan Stand, he was handed the proverbial slip of paper with the speech written on it. He didn’t need a note, however, to tell him to bring young Darragh McGarry up to collect the McCarthy Cup. It was a simple gesture, as obvious as the right thing always is. And it summed up Kilkenny in 2007. Class on the field. Class off it.

None of the above are our highlights of the year, however.

Our selection from 2007 comes not from any spectacular catch or decisive goal, no pithy description or angry outburst. Our highlight is the morning of Monday June 11th.

That was the day after the first Limerick-Tipperary draw, and the replay was scheduled for the following Saturday, with Cork and Waterford due to play their Munster SHC semi-final the next afternoon. The championship had been electrified by Limerick-Tipp, and while we didn’t know, obviously, that that story would become a trilogy, an extra Munster hurling championship game is like found money. As a good omen it didn’t let us down.

The rest of the summer was suddenly ripe with possibility, and what’s more, improbably enough, that possibility was fulfilled.

And that was the Monday which held all the promise you could ever want in the middle of the year. A few days to a perennially entertaining encounter, with an old rivalry being reactivated the night before.

Life at that stage could hardly have been better because it was all ahead of us. As readers well know, the championship season takes on a life of its own, and the days between the big summer Sundays fall into a predictable rhythm for even the casual follower: recovery and analysis on Monday. Injuries being discussed on Tuesday. Teams being named on Thursday, and plans being made on Friday. Those plans are inevitably broken on Saturday, so the last round of phone calls to discuss moves, switches and replacements takes on a practical edge.

A practical edge is needed, because at a couple of months’ remove the season looks like the work of fantasy. The three Limerick-Tipperary games. The three Waterford-Cork games. Tipperary-Wexford. Limerick-Waterford, both versions. Kilkenny-Galway. And at the very start, Waterford-Kilkenny in the league. That’s 11 class games in one season.

Did we imagine it all or is the rear-view mirror too rosy? Not so, said Justin McCarthy at one point during the immortal summer: “You’re seeing hurling at its best, to be honest about it. The best hurlers are around at the moment. They’re the greatest players of all time . . . they’re playing at a level so high that it’s nearly at breaking point at this stage.”

Well, that’s for another day. So is the annual threat to the Munster hurling championship in favour of a new format — open draw/champions league/whatever you’re having yourself. For the moment console yourself with the prospect that it won’t always be winter. June 11th, or some similar day, will dawn in 2008.

And once again the summer will stretch before you.

in the struggle (almost)

THERE HAS been some discussion as to why other counties are not coming out in solidarity with Cork’s striking hurlers and footballers. Well, during the week we
established the following…

Dublin were going to come out on strike but they arrived onto the picket line in dribs and drabs past the appointed time and their delay meant the protest never really got off the ground.

Meath were going to strike but when they heard Dublin were going on strike they decided not to, out of badness.

Antrim were going to strike but nobody understands the situation in the north if they haven’t been there, you know?

Armagh were going to strike but felt that wouldn’t be taking the whole thing seriously enough so they went back training.

Donegal were going to strike but decided not to because they never succeed in anything if Brian McEniff isn’t involved so they went back.

Down were going to strike but decided not to because a perfect
industrial relations record in certain disputes with Kerry would be

Derry were going to strike but felt everyone would say it was a one-man operation based on Paddy Bradley.

Carlow were going to strike but the seductive mistress that is potential victory in an O’Byrne Cup semi-final drained their resolve.

Longford were going to strike but couldn’t fit all the letters on the placard; Louth were going to strike but you know, it’s over 50 years since the last time…

Cavan were going to strike but felt everyone would think they were playing up to the stingy stereotype so they went back.

Clare were going to strike but somebody forgot to bring the
placards to the hill in Crusheen so Mike Mac said they might as well run up and down the slope for an hour anyway.

Kildare were going to strike but felt white would clash with the placards; Wicklow were going to strike but decided that Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry had never been on strike so they went back; and Laois were going to go on strike but felt they’d succeeded with Micko
without going on strike so they, too, went back.

Galway were going to strike but felt separate protests for hurling
and football were unworkable; Mayo were going to go on
strike but heartbreakingly they were pipped at the post when their
placards never turned up at the last minute. Leitrim were going to go on strike but felt their picket line would be too small to be noticed.

Westmeath were going to strike but decided not to out of respect to Joe Dolan; Wexford were going to strike but felt one good performance was all they’d get out of it.

Limerick were going to strike but decided to head off and play a bit of rugby with Shannon while they were out of action.

Waterford were going to strike but felt people liked their team so much they’d be better off going back. Tipperary were going to strike but decided not to because they felt they had nothing to prove: the finest.

Fermanagh were going to strike but half the county is water and half is Protestant, so where would they get pickets? Monaghan were going to strike but they couldn’t find a Patrick Kavanagh poem about strikes so they went back.

Offaly were going to go on strike but got annoyed with everyone
saying they’d be too busy partying to picket properly that they went back to prove the naysayers wrong.

Roscommon were going to go on strike but felt their promising minor pickets were too inexperienced, so they went back; Sligo were going to go on strike but hey, when you’re Connacht champs…

Tyrone were going to go on strike but felt that swarming in numbers all over the picket line would be counterproductive.

And Kerry were going to go on strike but felt that there were so many of them in Cork as it was that it was like they were on strike

Kilkenny were going to go on strike but decided to have an oul’ puck-around around while they were on the picket lines, y’know?