The GAA Championship, Week 5: Hurling Holding Sway

by | Jun 6, 2018

As some of you may be aware, we had a major meltdown of the 200% server last night which led to the site disappearing altogether for about fourteen hours. We’ve managed to salvage almost all of it, but we did lose three days’ worth. Most of that is lost forever, but Mark Murphy sent through this missive which we are happy to be able to republish.

This year’s Munster Hurling championship will be lauded for years if it continues to pile sensation-upon-sensation.

On Saturday, we had a high-scoring thrilling draw (28-each), with a soul-stirring comeback from a team a man down for 45 minutes. On Sunday, a high-scoring thrilling draw (28-each again but with more goals), with a soul-stirring comeback from a team a man down for 35 minutes but were helped hugely by dreadful umpiring. And the football natives are restless, although not necessarily for the reasons you’d imagine.

RTE have received piles of complaints about their lack of football coverage during May. The gist was that a ‘national game’ should be ‘showcased’ by the national broadcaster. Whereas hurling dominated state TV and radio, with RTE shipping especial criticism for simultaneous TV/radio coverage of the same hurling matches one Sunday, while ignoring the football entirely.

This thinking was fatally flawed. Football will dominate the airwaves in July/August, when ‘Super Eights’ come to town(s), the two groups of four which will determine the All-Ireland semi-finalists. Just as hurling has dominated May, with the two provincial championship round-robins in full swing. And RTE’s unwillingness/inabilty to broadcast them has been the ideal way to ‘showcase’ some of the football played thus far.

BBC Northern Ireland have exclusive ‘digital’ rights to Ulster Championship games and other broadcasts are subject to negotiation with RTE and SKY (“but that’s for another day’s work,” RTE pundit Pat Spillane noted recently, mixing ruefulness and bitterness). And by far the best match was Monaghan/Tyrone, which the BBC showed ‘as live’ (a 4pm throw-in, shown from 7pm). Carlow’s run to the Leinster semi-final has been the only football story to match the hurling’s magnificence.

And RTE can’t show all the hurling now. They could show week four’s Tipp/Cork classic drawn game, But SKY could show week five’s Cork/Limerick even better classic drawn match. Though Tipp/Waterford, back on RTE on Sunday, was perhaps…EVEN…BETTER…STILL, given its added searing controversy.

Not that SKY’s actual coverage was better, maintaining its established mix of semi-obvious punditry and insincere-sounding enthusiasm from presenter Rachel Wyse. But not even Wyse could drain the excitement when Cork and Limerick threw everything AND the kitchen sink at each other. And Cork’s Pairc Ui Chaoimh was nearly-packed enough for her “in front of a packed stadium” cliché to be nearly-credible.

For the second consecutive week, Cork could rue their wayward shooting and inability to press home their one-man advantage, after Aaron Gillane’s brain-dead dismissal for reacting to a minor shirt tug by whacking Cork defender Sean O’Donoghue with his hurl, about four yards from the linesman (TWICE, in case the linesman missed it the first time, presumably), whose delay in conveying events to the referee was surely due to disbelief.

Limerick, who also lost captain Declan Hannon to early injury, were two points behind when Gillane’s brain froze. But when Cork’s prolific-and-a-half full-forward Pat Horgan scored the game’s only goal, they were already in comeback mode, inspired by a comically-childish bout of shoulder-charging between Graeme Mulcahy and Cork’s Mark Coleman. Coleman initially ‘won,’ as all such nonsense should be ‘won,’ side-stepping Mulcahy’s last lunge to send him flying through the air. But Limerick somehow drew the strength from it.

As against Tipp, Cork found further resolve, turning a three-point deficit into a one-point stoppage-time lead. Limerick levelled with 45 seconds left. And 44 seconds later, Limerick defender Sean Finn flew through the air like he’d missed a shoulder charge on Mark Coleman to block down Seamus Harnedy’s last puck of the ball.

Waterford went into their clash with Tipperary as near-enough third-favourites, odds they speedily ridiculed as Tipp, AGAIN, were out-everythinged in the first half. Waterford scored two goals from two high balls into the danger area, the second of which Tipp’s Padraig Maher gymnastically kept in play, when it was going yards wide, to gift Pauric Mahony a goal.

Waterford were five points and a man up after Tipp’s Michael Cahill saw red for two innocuous-as-they-come bookings, the last puck of the first half being his on DJ Foran’s body rather than the sliothar (ball). And they doubled that lead, plus one, before Tipp decided that they really ought to, y’know, start playing. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher’s 58th-minute goal helped halve the deficit. And four minutes later, the deficit controversially became one.

Jason Forde’s long-range free was adjudged to have crossed the line by umpire J Quincy Magoo (or maybe the Man with the X-Ray eyes, as he actually saw something which no-one else did) after Waterford everywhere-man Austin Gleeson fumbled the ball but clearly recovered it almost as much in front of the line as THAT Frank Lampard shot was behind it, something which the umpire closest to, i.e. a YARD from, the incident clearly saw. Gleeson even right-shoulder-charged the post as he held the ball in his left hand, as if the umpire hadn’t enough visual aids as it was.

To their credit, Waterford kept their noses in front until Tipp grabbed another last-attack leveller, after their previous point was incorrectly signalled wide by guess-who…NOT trying to atone for his earlier botch, perish THAT thought. “By God, they gave it a belt,” said clearly-impressed RTE analyst and ex-Tipp keeper Brendan Cummins.

And Waterford’s post-match reaction was wonderfully philosophical (“If it’s a mistake, it’s a mistake, we just move on,” said manager Derek McGrath), apart from Dan ‘the man’ Shanahan, Waterford’s backwards-baseball-cap-wearing selector. But he’s always a nutcase on the touchline, even when foxtrot-alpha has happened.

It’s less lively in Leinster (how could it not be?), where last year’s All-Ireland champions Galway look like this year’s All-Ireland champions. Within three-and-a-bit minutes in Wexford on Saturday, the Tribesmen were five points up, living up to their combative nickname every bit as much as Wexford’s ‘Yellowbellies’ were living down to theirs. Wexford simply couldn’t close the gap and ultimately were slightly fortunate to escape with a nine-point loss.

If you sensed a sharp intake of breath at about half-six, it came from Wexford. Galway’s talismanic, terrific forward Joe Canning took what looked like a whack on the knee from an (unintentionally) errant Wexford hurley and collapsed in an injury-stricken heap. However, replays were indeterminate on whether Canning’s knee was hit or twisted. So, the crowd certainly didn’t know. And for all Galway’s All-Ireland credentials, even they would/will miss a player of his general fabulousness.

On Saturday, for instance, Canning scored from two ‘line-balls’ (throw-in equivalents). And such scores used to happen about once every two blue moons. Hurlers lift the ball off the ground before striking frees but line-balls are hit direct off the ground, which is invariably grassy enough to mitigate against distance. (Mick Robertson of ITV kids’ show Magpie tried a line-ball at the newly-opened Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 1975 and memorably took half the pitch with him).

With modern hurleys matching modern cricket bats’ ability to hit things further, such instances are more frequent. Nevertheless, Canning’s two efforts were outstanding. And his post-match comments that his injury wasn’t “too serious” have largely avoided scrutiny, by fans probably and understandably hoping that ignoring it will make it go away.

Wexford’s loss leaves them needing a draw in Kilkenny next Saturday to set up a repeat of last year’s Galway/Wexford Leinster final. Kilkenny need a win to avoid consecutive failures to reach the provincial decider for the first time since, eeek, 1985.

The losers face a ‘preliminary’ All-Ireland quarter-final away to one of the ‘second-tier’ championship’s top-two. So, all hope is not gone for them. For Offaly, however, it has. A 2018 which started with an impressive, convincing league win over Dublin in Croke Park, ended with a trimming against Dublin in Parnell Park in an effective relegation play-off.

Offaly were thumped by Galway and Wexford. So, Sunday’s defeat was coming. They were only two points behind, shortly before half-time, when Sean Ryan’s theatrical fall over Dublin defender Alan Nolan’s guiltily-outstretched leg possibly denied them the penalty it seemed to be. Thereafter, Dublin extended their lead monstrously, Offaly needing snookers long before the end.

Sunday’s football was either one-sided or crap with a sensational finish. There were home wins for Kerry over Clare in Munster by 22 points and Galway over Sligo in Connacht by ‘only’ 21. They face trips to Cork and the mighty Roscommon in their respective provincial finals. And someone will be there to meet Roscommon in their Dr Hyde Park ground (see last week), which is great…if I get a ticket. Otherwise: “Boo!”

Fermanagh and Monaghan are down there with Roscommon among Ireland’s lowest-populated counties. Monaghan have over-achieved fabulously to be a ‘top-eight’ side for years. But having beaten Ulster champions and supposed All-Ireland contenders Tyrone two weeks ago, they came horribly unstuck on Sunday. And I mean HORRIBLY.

RTE’s football coverage, when there is any, ships huge criticism for its negativity, especially that of the inevitable Joe Brolly. And on Sunday, Brolly was flinging the stuff all over Fermanagh’s putrid ‘blanket’ defensive game, while openly laughing at Kerry football ‘legend’ Pat Spillane’s stirring “message of hope” for football’s under-populated underdogs (“it’s not the size of the dog, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” and other Oscar Wildean majesty).

Brolly admitted “that was inspirational” when he thought he was off-mic. But presenter Joanne Cantwell, wisely, advised viewers not to “get too carried away” because she was “pretty sure” Brolly would “dash all that hope in the next few moments.” And the early match commentary seemed to pursue the negative ‘agenda.’ But they were right.

Pre-match, Brolly actually praised Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke’s inventiveness. That was all forgotten by half-time, while Spillane re-referenced dogfight sizes. But honest-to-God, and however bravely (and correctly) Cantwell insisted that Fermanagh’s suffocating tactics were “working,” it was all better than the game. Until stoppage-time.

Monaghan led by two, until Fermanagh’s Ryan Jones mishit a shot (or dropped a dangerous ball into the goalmouth, if you’re feeling generous) which Eoin Donnelly athletically fisted to the net. O’Rourke banged his head against the dug-out. And star Monaghan forward Conor McManus dead-stopped 94,000 ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ cliches when he fired the last kick wide, a miss greeted which comparable delight by Fermanagh fans and neutrals dreading 20 minutes’ extra-time.

The paucity of Monaghan’s forward play was exposed by full-back Drew Wylie sauntering forward to score two points. The paucity of Fermanagh’s forward play was masked for another day.

Fermanagh were neutrals favourites on their run to 2015’s All-Ireland quarter-final where they entertainingly avoided humiliation by Dublin. However, this mixed some excellent football with the ‘blanket defence.’ Neutrals might not be so favourable in 2018.

Next week: the football qualifiers, more Munster hurling mayhem and Leinster hurling’s decisive matches. And shocks could be on. Because, after all, it’s not the size of the dog. Or something.