On the basis of Sunday’s chalk and cheese hurling quarter-finals — the first mellow, the next dramatic — most experts are convinced it’ll be either Waterford or Tipperary standing in the way of Kilkenny and a five-in-a-row come September 5th.
However, that’s to discount a(nother) last kick from Cork who didn’t exactly impress in beating an Antrim side who were always kept at a safe distance. The Rebels reckoned that Gerald McCarthy was the reason they fell short (by a respectable six points) against the champions at the quarter-final stage two years ago, so we’ll see on Sunday week how much they’ve bridged the gap. Or watched it widen.
A great game in a non-vintage year, Tipp versus Galway was close rather than classic: end-to-end, hell for leather, last-man-standing sort of stuff. But, all bias aside, as good as the 2004 Munster final, as claimed by Ger Loughnane? Or last year’s All-Ireland?
John McIntyre, an emotional wreck, has been accused in the past of making excuses for his players’ failings. But on this occasion he didn’t, nor could he, for Galway gave their Tipperary manager everything. Unlike in their tame Leinster final surrender to Kilkenny, who seem to have this handy ability to psyche-out the opposition as much as out-hurl them.
Most Waterford people would have preferred to have seen the Tribesmen come through, seeing as we’ve had the edge on them over the years, including the quarter-finals of ’98 and 2009, and not forgetting that cracking ’06 qualifier in Walsh Park.
However, Tipp, to their credit, pulled it out of the fire, coming back from two points down to win by one in the dying seconds (even if the referee could have added three more minutes for injuries instead of bizarrely blowing it up with the ball within striking distance of the winners’ goal). It was a huge test of the Stone Throwers’ desire and nerve and they passed it. Just.
It sets up an exact reversal of the 2008 semi when, of course, Tipp lost to that year’s backdoor beneficiaries Waterford — and exacting Croke Park revenge will be a huge incentive fore Liam Sheedy’s side, for sure — though they had our measure, injuries notwithstanding, in in last year’s Munster final.
Despite Babs Keating’s jarring criticisms and the management question-marks raised by his fellow Premier legend and former selector John Leahy in ‘The Sunday Times’, Eoin Kelly & co have rebounded with purpose after that surprise provincial quarter-final defeat by Cork, when they badly lacked for hunger and hurling sharpness.
Cork played like men possessed that day but in hindsight it’s looking more like a case of a complacent Tipp not showing up. If Cork peaked too soon, and they can’t at least replicate that level of intensity (stifled by Waterford at the second attempt) “Kilkenny”, as Paul Flynn insisted on ‘The Sunday Game’, “will definitely be in the final.”
Featuring the four dominant hurling counties so far this millennium, the first two Sundays in August are going to be electric, if no picnic for any of the pretenders. It’s just a pity they’re going to be in Croke Park, not Thurles, which would be much more convenient and atmospheric all-round. And sure that’s where Waterford presumed they’d be playing Tipp in the first place.