Thursday 29 September 2016

Michael McCarthy: Semi-finals can ignite slow-burning summer

Shades of 2005 last-four classics as Deise and Galway ready to make mockery of predictions

Michael McCarthy

Published 05/08/2015 | 02:30

Maurice Shanahan celebrates Waterford’s win over Dublin – facing Kilkenny on Sunday will be a different ball game
Maurice Shanahan celebrates Waterford’s win over Dublin – facing Kilkenny on Sunday will be a different ball game

It hasn't been a vintage GAA year. Whinging about the state of football is a constant thread at this time of year, but the hurling championship is also attracting criticism. We've just been waiting on the inevitable Tipperary/Kilkenny final for some life.

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I'm not so sure we'll have to wait until September for some thrills, though. This year's semi-finals put me in mind of the Championship of 2005.

Cork were up against an ageing Clare, and Kilkenny against Galway, and most people felt it was a formality that Cork and Kilkenny would meet for the third final in a row - although I was convinced there was going to be a surprise.

What we got were two all-time classics. I still count that Cork/Clare semi-final as the worst experience of my sporting life. In a low-scoring game, Clare were brilliant in the first 50 minutes, leading by six points, before Cork, led by the brilliant Ben O'Connor, launched a relentless comeback to win by a point.

I watched the game from Hill 16, surrounded by a group of Cork "fans" who did not give a jot what happened on the field, but reacted to the final whistle as if they've watched a routine Cork trouncing. The chant of "Rebels, Rebels" never sounded so haunting.

The next week, my prediction proved true when Galway stunned Kilkenny in one of the most celebrated semi-finals.

We got one of those classic Galway days when they were world beaters. Niall Healy and Ger Farragher, who got five goals between them, put in the once-in-a-lifetime performances.

You knew they might not do it again, but on any one day, this could happen. That's Galway. That's still Galway.

Next weekend, I expect the hurling championship to come alight. Waterford have lost one game all year and could cause Kilkenny real problems.

After the Munster final, people complained about their defensive system, but when it's working as it was against Cork and Dublin, they've been the bright spark of a poor summer.

Galway have been brilliant at times this year, yet were well beaten in the Leinster final. They still have those dangerous forwards in Joe Canning, Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion. They also still have the patented Galway 'enigmatic forward' like Johnny Glynn, Cyril Donnellan and even Healy, who's still around.

Isn't it just about possible to see Galway or Waterford upsetting the apple cart?

Irish Independent

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