A Magical Summer of Hurling

Brian Flannery Reports

Those who questioned the wisdom of the revised All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship format may well require a rethink in the wake of a sensational summer of action, and a semi-final weekend we’ll never forget. Because make no mistake, this has been arguably the most exciting Championship ever (or at least in my memory which dates back to the 1980 season).
Last weekend we had the first All-Ireland Semi-Finals in the same season which both went to extra time, two games which showcased everything that is good about the game of hurling.
On Saturday evening we witnessed Clare recovering from a horrid start and a nine point deficit to come storming back into the game forcing extra-time and eventually a replay this Sunday afternoon at Semple Stadium (2pm).

Proud: Limerick senior hurling manager John Kiely. 			| Photos: Noel

Proud: Limerick senior hurling manager John Kiely. | Photos: Noel

What a brilliant game this was. Early on Galway out-muscled their opponents with Jonathan Glynn causing major problems on the edge of the square. Clare eventually dropped Colm Galvin back to help out his under siege full-back line and he began to win a huge amount of breaking ball and was the fulcrum for many of the Banner’s best attacking moves.
Peter Duggan also provided an ideal outlet for Donal Tuohy to hit from puck-outs when the short option wasn’t available. Duggan’s accuracy was crucial to his team’s success and influence on the outcome. Indeed, Peter Duggan’s amazing point from play near the end of normal time sits comfortably alongside Ciaran Carey’s memorable score in the 1996 Munster final as one of the best points ever scored in the history of the game. John Conlon hit four from play and remains in the conversation for Hurler of the Year.
Aaron Shanagher rattling the net on introduction in his first game in almost a year following a cruciate knee operation was another point of note on an evening of many.
The reigning champions took the blows and lost Gearóid McInerney and Joe Canning to injury but are still standing.
Padraig Mannion was immense throughout as was Conor Whelan and it really is back to zero-zero for both teams this Sunday and really you couldn’t be certain of anything in this seasons hurling championship.

On the laws of averages, the second All-Ireland hurling semi-final couldn’t possibly be as good as the first, could it? Well low and behold we enjoyed another thriller and instant classic within twenty four hours.Munster rivals Limerick and Cork served up another thrill a minute with the Treaty men coming from six points behind with less than 10 minutes of normal time to play.
Conor Lehane had sent a bullet to the roof of the net to help establish this substantial lead. By this stage the cavalry had arrived in the form of Shane Dowling, Peter Casey, Pat Ryan and Will O’Donoghue. This provided Limerick with another injection of pace and energy.

Clare's David McInerney pictured with Waterford’s Stephen Bennett at Cusack Park. The Banner have responded superbly to their provincial final defeat.

Clare's David McInerney pictured with Waterford’s Stephen Bennett at Cusack Park. The Banner have responded superbly to their provincial final defeat.

Dowling landed a monster free while Aaron Gillane nailed every opportunity that came his way including a free from the side-line on the 20-metre line. Nicky Quaid kept Limerick in the game and in the championship with a remarkable diving flick to deny Cork Captain Seamus Harnedy a certain match winning goal. Patrick Horgan nailed an equalising free to send the game to extra-time.
It was all Limerick from here on. Substitutes Shane Dowling and Pat Ryan both found the net in extra-time to send John Kiely and his team to a first All-Ireland final since 2007.
Two great games with three teams still in the hunt for one the hardest Championships ever to win.

The next Deise manager…

On the local scene Waterford remains a county without a manager. Pat Ryan of Sarsfields in Cork appeared set to be anointed with bookmakers suspending betting on the successor to Derek McGrath. However, more recent reports suggest that on reflection the Cork man decided his future would be best served contributing to his native Cork’s future hurling fortunes with a likely link up with the Cork minors for 2019.

The selection panel consisting of the four county board officers, Paddy Joe Ryan, Pat Flynn, Sean Michael O’Regan and John Jackson will have to go back to the drawing board with current player reps Noel Connors and Kevin Moran also believed to be involved with regard this important appointment.
Of course any recommendation of the selection panel will have to be ratified by the clubs before any appointment is confirmed. Where and to whom next the selection panel turn to is anyone’s guess.
But one name is worth referencing here, in this observer’s view. Over the past 59 years, Waterford has won three hurling All-Ireland hurling titles with Sean Power the manager for two out of three of these triumphs with the late Tony Mansfield being the other with Waterford’s 1992 U-21 win.

Sean Power, as things stand, doesn’t appear to have gained sufficient purchase from the board members despite his unrivalled success.
To date, eight of Sean Power’s protégés have graduated to play Senior Championship and these players currently make up over half the Waterford senior hurling team while others like Conor Prunty, Mark O’Brien and Darragh Lyons were also part of this year’s senior panel. Sometimes, the best solution is often right in front of you.

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