Mooncoin's Ciaran Duffy & Ceire Rochford at the 'Off The Ball' Roadshow in Mason's.

Mooncoin's Ciaran Duffy & Ceire Rochford at the 'Off The Ball' Roadshow in Mason's.

Let’s face it. After last Sunday’s cakewalk in Croke Park the prize at stake in this weekend’s second semi-final at headquarters is the title of All-Ireland Hurling Championship runners-up 2010.

At least that appears to be the universal view everywhere but within both the Waterford and Tipperary camps: the two teams who came closest to matching Kilkenny last year, but ultimately came up just a little short. Unlike Cork, who trounced Tipp but couldn’t overcome Waterford at the first or second attempt. Yet Waterford are most people’s marginal underdogs against the Premier, despite being Munster champions. Go figure. Apart from Kilkenny’s annoyingly awesome ability to keep on keeping on, the splitting of hurling hairs is as fine as it’s ever been.

Hurling should be in rude health. The standard, while increasingly tactical, is arguably as high as it’s ever been. Certainly the Noreside version. And their neighbours aren’t so shabby. But crowds aren’t just dwindling, they’re on a downward spiral. Munster championship attendances were paltry and barely above 40,000 showed up in Croker to watch what was once the hottest hurling ticket in town.

Why so? Is it a case of the economy stupid? Or more to do with Kilkenny’s indefatigable dominance killing the competitive edge that’s the lifeblood of any sport? Black & Amber fans may be in Xanadu but hurling’s iconic place in Irish culture is at risk of becoming a sort of Paradise Lost. Which considering it should be the jewel in the GAA’s crown is a crying shame, and one that Christy Cooney and company can’t afford to ignore, including for financial reasons. And don’t forget that for all the quality coaching being carried out with evident success in the likes of Waterford and Tipperary, the game in customary strongholds such as Limerick, Wexford and Offaly is ailing to the extent that the code’s top twelve counties could soon become a half-dozen. Football is an easier game to play and so relative success can be fast-tracked. Hurling is a longer-term investment and counties want success yesterday.

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