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The prize for the Galway senior hurlers for their impressive 2-28 to 0-22 win over Cork last Sunday in Semple stadium is an All-Ireland semi-final clash with Tipperary in three weeks time at Croke Park.
Last Sunday’s All-Ireland senior quarter final against Cork really had a bit of everything. The tone for the game was set up earlier in the week when Brian Cuthbert, the Cork manager, launched an attack on two of Mayo’s favourite sons, Kevin McLoughlin and Cillian O’Connor. This was then compounded by Cork selector Ronan McCarthy’s agreement with his manager when both players’ integrity was put into question and their ability to “foul tactically” and be very “streetwise” was used as a means of trying to give Cork an edge with the referee. McLoughlin and O’Connor are role models for youngsters all over the county and indeed country, and I feel the Cork management made a big mistake in naming them, particularly as they have a pretty much impeccable disciplinary record. The bottom line is you want your forwards tackling hard, and maybe if their own team were a little more “streetwise” against Kerry they would not have received such a hiding.
The assertion by Cork selector Ronan McCarthy in the Irish Examiner in lead up to Sunday's All Ireland quarter-final between Mayo and Cork, that Mayo duo Cillian O'Connor and Kevin McLoughlin were good at tactical fouling and getting away with it was lambasted by an angry James Horan in the aftermath of Mayo's single point win over Cork. Horan said that “our character was challenged in the lead up to the game by the Cork management, which I think is unprecedented in Gaelic Football, where a management team name players and for us it was taking the integrity of two of our players and our team. I think it's something that's disgraceful and they should be ashamed of what they done. Does that make victory sweeter for us? It probably does. I just think it's a new low when you have opposition management naming specific players and taking their integrity and good name. We've coaches and we try and play as well as we can all the time within the rules of the game and to have two guys who have struggled this year, to come out and say that at this level is not good enough at all.”
This Sunday in Croke Park (3.30pm) Galway will try might and main to advance to their first all-Ireland senior hurling final in seven years.
I was out of the country last weekend on a cycling holiday in Germany (more anon). I deliberately stayed away from all forms of communication until I arrived back in the country. By the time I landed in Dublin I was bursting for information on all of last weekend’s sporting activities. I called a few friends on the trek home from Dublin Airport and managed to get a good account of most of the action. The first conversation I had informed me of Kilkenny’s demolition job on Cork in the league final. These Kilkenny boys are simply in a different league to most others. I have watched them a couple of times earlier this year when they appeared to be just going through the motions, but once they get a whiff of a trophy they invariably rack it up a few notches. Jimmy Barry Murphy will, for the first time since his appointment as Cork manager, realise that the honeymoon period is over and his task of landing the Liam McCarthy is an enormous one when you consider the conveyor belt of young talent Brian Coady has at his disposal. But it is not just the talent that they produce year on year – it is their entire application and appetite for success that makes them so exceptional.
It is strange days indeed when the championship draw is confirmed before the league format is sorted out.
If last Sunday’s hurling action is anything to go by we are in for one hell of a summer. After watching some tame games during the league I must admit I was worried that we would live in the shadow of football again this year. However, after last Sunday it looks as though the hurlers can give the big ball players a good run for their money this year.
The general consensus in Pearse Stadium on Sunday afternoon was that the Galway seniors were improving and things were starting to look up a bit.
Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s departure from the Cork hurling panel has dominated the sports news this week after Dennis Walsh indicated that he would not be included in Cork’s plans for next season. This was a huge decision to make and in one sense I can understand how difficult it must have been for Walsh to make it. There are two schools of thought at play here. Dennis Walsh could have taken the soft option and waited until his time in charge was over, thereby leaving the tough decision to omit the player to the next manager. Nobody would have complained if Seán Óg was kept on the squad to assist with the task of indoctrinating some new faces into a new Cork squad. I do feel he could have done a fine job in this regard.
The Galway hurlers have often been referred to as one of the great underachievers. The fact that they have not brought the Liam McCarthy back across the Shannon since 1988 probably has something to do with this tag. Judging by the way they disposed of the Cork challenge in the National Hurling League final at Thurles last Sunday evening they highlighted the fact they mean business this year. The first half of this game was as good as I've seen for some time, it was as close a championship pace as you're likely to see.