GAA Championships Week 2: Hurling’s Ali vs Frazier

by | Apr 29, 2022

Two weekends into Championship and there’s already a consensus that last Saturday’s match
between hurling’s top two was the first of three between them this year.

In 2020, Limerick/Waterford was the Munster AND All-Ireland final pairing. It would likely have been
2021’s All-Ireland final, if they hadn’t met in the semi. And with 2022’s Munster championship being
a round-robin affair, they were always going to meet before any finals.

Limerick prevailed on Saturday, with enough elan, having overcome enough setbacks, to stay title
favourites. But Waterford were excellent too. And the two could yet provide a sporting saga of
Mohammad Ali/Joe Frazier 1970s boxing trilogy proportions. Albeit with less punches…probably.
Things did not start well for Limerick. Leading light Kyle Hayes was already out injured. 2020’s hurler
of the year, the, ahem, physical, Gearoid Hegarty was booked for persistent fouling…after FOUR
minutes. On nine minutes, 2021 hurler of the year Cian Lynch joined Hayes on the injured list did his
hamstring on nine minutes. And Waterford flew into a five-point lead on 17 minutes.

However, Cathal O’Neill’s point, a minute after replacing Lynch, was the shape of things to come.
Limerick outscored Waterford by a phenomenal 0-25 to 0-13 between minutes 17 and 62. Aaron
Gillane was Limerick’s star, point-scoring from all angles. But Limerick’s bench was the real killer,
against a Waterford side with quality replacements, as Tipperary discovered six days earlier. Their
next score after the afore-mentioned 45-minute phenomenon, was the work of three Limerick subs,
O’Neill, David Reidy and scorer Pat Ryan.

And it was vital. Between minutes 63 and 65, Waterford grabbed two goals to cut Limerick’s lead
from seven to one, including Steven(CHK) Bennet’s driven free, which he would ordinarily have
tapped over the bar, showing how desperately Waterford needed a goal. Momentum shifted
dramatically…until Ryan’s score shifted it again. And Limerick landed the only other score to prevail
by three.

“The composure of champions,” wrote Eoin Ryan, on RTE’s website. Indeed. Meanwhile, Sunday
Game analyst Donal Og Cusack suggested “Limerick have taken” hurling “higher up the mountain
than anybody else, into that death zone, right?” Er…right.

Munster’s other game had its own drama, with Clare’s wind-assisted but still mighty first-half leaving
hosts Tipperary clinging onto championship survival. Clare hit three first-half goals against a Tipp
defence at sixes and sevens…and eights. And they led by 13 points at half-time, too much even for a
slightly-improved, wind-assisted Tipp.

Clare keeper Eibhear Quilligan’s great early save from Jason Forde was rare first-half action for both
players. Tipp keeper Brian Hogan made fine first-quarter saves from Peter Duggan and John Conlon.
Alas, these were admired from a distance by Tipp’s ‘defence,’ as Ian Galvin and Duggan followed-up
and netted. Tipp made a defensive change. But within 30 seconds, sub Brian McGrath conceded a
blatant penalty, which Clare star Tony Kelly thwacked home.

Tipp got the second half start they needed with sub Ger Browne’s fine solo goal, two minutes in. And
Tipp were only nine behind on 49 minutes when Quilligan let Barry Heffernan’s high ball into the net.
“He won’t want to see that again,” opined the Balls.ie website, assuming that Quilligan saw it at all.
But Tipp couldn’t get the lead below the eight points by which Clare won.

RTE pundit, Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland winning manager, Davy Fitzgerald, eschewed impartiality, on
‘The Sunday Game Live’ with Tipp’s 2019 All-Ireland winning supremo, Liam Sheedy. And he banged
on incessantly about Clare’s 2013 hat-trick hero Shane O’Donnell (“so good upstairs”), making him
man of the match from the heart rather than the head. But, a possibly bitter but correct Sheedy
noted, “that game last night was on a different level.”

And Sheedy wasn’t talking about Dublin’s one-point Leinster Championship win over Wexford. Two
home games and one point tells Wexford’s story. Yet, had their two penalties provided two goals
rather than one point, Wexford would be behind table-toppers Kilkenny on scoring difference alone,
with struggling Laois and Westmeath still to play, the teams Kilkenny have beaten.

Wexford should have beaten Dublin. Keeper Mark Fanning’s 52 nd -minute penalty was excellent. And
Dublin keeper Sean Brennan’s save was outstanding. However, they squandered other goal chances
and had the wrong man in the right place at the key closing moment. Dublin led from fifth minute to
finish, but effectively won it in the last minute when Danny Sutcliffe acrobatically blocked Liam
Ryan’s puck downfield, and when Wexford half-back Matthew O’Hanlon strode untracked into the
scoring zone but erroneously elected to pass.

Leinster’s other games were as one-sided as feared, Kilkenny and Galway sealing home wins over
Laois and Westmeath, by 23 and 26 points. This inspired a ‘Sunday Game’ discussion on “spreading
hurling more on this island.” It’s an age-old issue, though. And the only revelation from said
discussion was Og Cusack’s geographical confusion, as he urged the GAA to “invest in those
counties…Belfast, Kildare, Westmeath,” while COUNTY Antrim (capital: Belfast) collectively screamed
at their screens.

Dublin visit Westmeath this Sunday, so form suggests they will reach six points, which should ensure
a top-three spot. Wexford visit both, so form suggests five points. But five points will likely not be
enough. And victory IN Kilkenny in their last match might be required.

So…Wexford’s winners are their footballers, the third worst team in the entire 2022 National
Football League causing a good-to-firm surprise with a three-point win over division three Offaly.
Wicklow’s home win over Laois was an eye-catching shock, as they led by a hurling score of 5-13 to
2-6 before Laois doubled their tally in a card-strewn denouement. Louth also went nap, against
Carlow.

As a result, Leinster football headlined the Sunday Game. But not even Louth, under Tyrone’s triple
All-Ireland winning boss Micky Harte, are expected to win again. And the competition still resembles
one to decide who gets thumped by Dublin, who haven’t lost a Leinster match since 2010.

There were bigger battles in Ulster and Connacht, literally in Ulster, many feared. Donegal’s league
encounter with Armagh three weeks ago, ended in a multi-player brawl. Nothing similar threatened
on Sunday, although the game was so tight that you half-wished it would.

Donegal led by three points at half-time. And while few teams take every chance, Donegal should
have been at least another three up. Armagh’s second half start suggested Donegal would pay for
their profligacy. But the visitors were simply as wasteful. They had a goal disallowed within seconds.
And there were suggestions that it was “difficult to see” why it was disallowed, though this was only
true in the sense that Rian O’Neill’s foul on Donegal keeper Shaun Patten was difficult to see among
the bodies converging on the ball. They then hit the post and Patten saved Aidan Nugent’s attempt
from the rebound.

Thus reprieved, Donegal landed the second half’s first point. And Paddy McBrearty’s 49 th -minute
goal, after a neat one-two with Caolan Ward, was particularly galling for Armagh, as McBrearty had
stunk the place out until then. The seven-point gap this opened up was massive in such a tight game.
And seven points up was how Donegal finished a game which might as well have been sponsored by
“damp squibs ‘r’ us.”

Donegal will now meet Cavan, after Cavan’s 13-point win over Antrim on Saturday. Cavan had
complained that Antrim’s 3,700-capacity Corrigan Road ground was too small for the game (Antrim’s
biggest ground, Casement Park, has been long-awaiting redevelopment, and Antrim haven’t hosted
an Ulster championship match since 2013). The GAA’s Ulster Council initially agreed, asking Antrim
to suggest a neutral venue. Antrim said ‘Foxtrot Oscar.’ And the GAA realised that Corrigan Park was
good enough after all.

Quite right, too. You would not believe, from the TV camera positions opposite the main stand, that
Corrigan Park is only two-and-a-half miles from Belfast city centre (note to Donal Og Cusack, CITY
centre). The mountainous backdrop was great during winter league matches. In last Saturday’s
sunshine, it was stunning.

But what about the football, you ask. The football? Oh, that was horrendous.

Mayo’s template for recent Connacht Championship first round matches has been as follows: Start
as favourites. Miss a load of chances. Lose narrowly. Rinse and repeat. So it was on Sunday in
Castlebar. Visitors Galway were five points up in six minutes, after Johnny Heaney’s goal. Mayo then
steadied their ship and took some control when Galway’s Finnian O’Laoi was black-carded and sent
to the sin-bin for a ‘deliberate body collide’ with Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor, which replays instantly
showed was nothing of the sort.

Mayo were level at half-time, went ahead just after it and then…stopped. They didn’t score again for
a ridiculous 20 minutes, while Galway tagged on six points, including three very long-range placed
balls by Shane Walsh. And after Mayo ended their scoring drought, Galway full-forward Damien
Comer made an inspirational mazy run and eventually set up Paul Conroy for the score of the match.
Comer’s run was all the more remarkable (and mazy) as the first two people he ‘beat’ were an
injured colleague and the physio treating him.

Mayo’s Lee Keegan landed an inspirational 68 th -minute point. But RTE commentator Darragh
Maloney insisted Mayo needed a goal. Few would have argued. Galway were still six-up when
Keegan scored. Yet, with seconds’ stoppage-time left, and sub Aiden Orme readying to shoot from a
difficult but scoreable position, Mayo needed only a point to force extra-time. Orme missed. Only 30
seconds were added for a 50-second stoppage-time stoppage. And Galway survived.
But, remember, Mayo been here before. Lose early in Connacht, win their qualifiers, reach All-
Ireland finals anyway. Rinse and repeat. And few will bet against them doing that again.

Nonetheless, this is the best Galway side for a while. And the twain may meet again.
Sky Sports were surely delighted with last Saturday’s hurling double bill. But this week, Wexford host
Dublin FOOTBALLERS (Sky Sports Arena, throw-in 6.30pm), which will be a ‘different’ occasion. That
follows Monaghan/Down at 4.30pm in Ulster. Based on league form, this won’t BE an occasion, as
only Monaghan had any. The counties produced two great games in 2017 (I know. I was at the
second). But a third? Unlikely.

Better Ulster fare should come from Tyrone hosting Derry at 4pm on Sunday. But the best fare will
likely be Sunday’s 2pm hurling games. Galway, managed by Kilkenny’s all-time top scorer and ten-
time All-Ireland winner Henry Shefflin, host…Kilkenny (Shefflin hasn’t yet got the hang of calling
Galway “we” in interviews). And Cork play Clare in Munster, in what RTE pundit and twice Clare All-
Ireland winning captain Anthony Daly keeps calling a “monstrosity of a game.” Mistakenly,
presumably. Cork WERE bad against Limerick. But…
Sunday’s matches are on RTE, available in the UK on the GAA GO website. Still worth a subscription.
And, no, I’m NOT a shareholder.