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Tuesday 23 September 2014

A semi-final to get excited about

Published 30/07/2013 | 05:38

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IT'S A long time since both All-Ireland Senior hurling championship semi-finals will be awaited with such bated breath after the sensational events in Semple Stadium, Thurles, on Sunday last.

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Kilkenny may have been on the ropes for some time now, and it's easy to be wise in hindsight and say that this outcome was on the cards. After all, they leaked goals against an average Offaly team, and should have lost the first day against Dublin before failing to capitalise on their second chance.

The signs were more encouraging after winning the clash of the titans with Tipperary in Nowlan Park, but it seemed to be a case of one step forward and two steps back when they needed extra-time to see off a Waterford side in transition.

Yet, despite that less than inspiring form throughout the summer to date, it was still a case of seeing is believing on Sunday as Cork's victory put paid to their three-in-a-row hopes and possibly led to the break-up of the greatest hurling team I've ever had the privilege to witness.

I stress 'possibly' because who's to say what might happen when the batteries are re-charged and the 2014 season looms large with the post-mortem completed on this year to forget. There is no more dangerous animal than a wounded cat and those folk coming out with silly statements like 'Kilkenny are finished' really must know nothing about sport.

Fair enough, we may not see all of the players on this amazing squad in action together again, but our near neighbours will re-generate and re-group as only they can and will be back to battle it out for glory with as much desire as ever next year. I would urge readers to hop over the border if possible in the coming weeks to witness some club action in Kilkenny to get a better understanding of how and why the Noresiders occupy such an exalted position in our ancient game.

I watched Sunday's match on television and couldn't believe some of the decisions or non-decisions made by referee Barry Kelly. Fair play to Cork as they fully deserved their victory, but the game is crying out for some men in the middle with a thorough grasp of the rules.

Henry Shefflin's first yellow card was extremely harsh in my view; if anything he appeared to check himself at the last minute and there was no ferocity in the challenge as the Cork player involved simply got on with it.

As for the second booking, this issue of head-high tackling is a serious grey area as far as I'm concerned. If a smaller player ducks in under an arm, then these incidents can look a lot worse than they are in reality.

Furthermore, and this didn't happen in this instance to be fair, it's very easy to con a referee and earn a free in this type of situation. This is probably more prevalent in football where many players lower their head instinctively at the sight of an opposing arm and invariably earn a free.

My biggest gripe with the referee though was the complete lack of punishment meted out to Cork corner-back Shane O'Neill when he conceded a penalty early in the second-half. Referee Kelly clearly saw the incident as he blew for the foul, but how in the name of God did he not feel it merited a yellow card at least, and possibly a red, after the defender's dangerous swipe?

When you weigh it up against Shefflin's first yellow for a mere tap by comparison as opposed to a fully-blown swing, you have to wonder what is wrong with the standard of officiating in our biggest games.

Another second-half incident had Brian Cody in a frenzy on the sideline when a free was awarded right before his eyes to a Cork player who clearly fell to the ground with no assistance from a Kilkenny man.

People not involved with teams often wonder why normally calm, composed individuals can lose the run of themselves due to decisions made by referees. They will have got their answer if they were watching this game.

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