Day of the underdog: Dublin can draw on legend of famous Ali triumph
IF the Dublin hurlers could summon Muhammad Ali's inspirational force to help steel them for Sunday's massive challenge against Tipperary, he might well utter just five words: "Sonny Liston, Miami Beach, Florida".
Sadly, Ali is rather quiet these days, unlike back in 1964 when, then as Cassius Clay, he stunned the boxing world by beating Liston for the world heavyweight title.
It was one of the great sporting shocks (to everybody except Clay) of any era as the 7/1 outsider dethroned the reigning champion, who was at the peak of his powers and considered indestructible.
Now, 47 years on, Dublin hurlers find themselves at even longer odds to beat the defending All-Ireland champions than Clay was to beat Liston. Dublin beat Tipperary in the league at Croke Park and won the Division 1 title but, amazingly, they're priced at 9/1 to win the All-Ireland semi-final.
Tipperary are 1/16 to reach a third successive final, while the odds on a draw -- which would be the first in the hurling semi-final for 10 years -- are 20/1.
In horse racing terms, it suggests that Tipperary are a half-furlong superior to Dublin. On the basis that sport delights in producing big shocks from time to time, it's scary territory for the champions.
And, however adept Declan Ryan is at convincing his players of the need to reach full power, it will take a mighty feat of mind-bending to prevent them believing that they can't possibly be beaten.
Tipperary supporters have already begun the search for All-Ireland final tickets, certain that Sunday's game is no more than a gentle warm-up for the Kilkenny test. It's a perfect base from which Dublin can launch a serious attack, something which won't be lost on Anthony Daly and his squad.
Sport's history is littered with days when the script was shredded as if by magic. And hurling hasn't been immune, as the following examples show.
Ten big hurling championship upsets
Antrim 4-15 Offaly 1-15
(1989 All-Ireland semi-final)
Antrim were 4/1 outsiders against Offaly (1/6), who had won two All-Irelands and six Leinster titles since 1980 and looked set for a relatively easy advance to another final.
However, Antrim, managed by Jim Nelson, produced a superb second-half performance, wiping out a four-point interval deficit to win the second half by 3-9 to 0-5.
Aidan McCarry (2-4) and Olcan McFetridge (2-3) scored 4-7 between them for Antrim in what was their best day since 1943, when they beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Wexford 2-20 Kilkenny 1-6
(1976 Leinster final)
Kilkenny won All-Ireland titles in 1972, '74 and '75 and would probably have won in '73 except for an injury blitz, so they went into the '76 Leinster final as overwhelming favourites to beat Wexford for a sixth successive season.
Instead, the Cats suffered their worst Leinster final defeat since the 1890s as Wexford outclassed them all over the pitch.
Indeed, were it not for a string of excellent saves by goalkeeper Noel Skehan, Kilkenny would have been beaten by a much bigger margin.
Kerry 4-13 Waterford 3-13
(1993 Munster quarter-final)
Kerry hadn't beaten Waterford in the Munster SHC since 1926 and were not expected to change the trend, especially in Walsh Park. Indeed, a coach company in Kerry which advertised a day trip to Waterford drew only three replies.
Those who did travel were rewarded with a splendid occasion as Kerry -- then, as now, managed by John Meyler -- stunned Waterford. Paul Flynn, making his senior championship debut, scored 3-2 for Waterford but Kerry, for whom DJ Leahy hit 2-2, powered to a famous victory.
Offaly 3-17 Kilkenny 5-10
(1980 Leinster final)
Only 9,500 spectators, the lowest crowd at a Leinster final since 1940, turned out at Croke Park, a pointer to what the public believed would be a routine Kilkenny win.
It was Offaly's first appearance in the Leinster final since 1969 and while it was clear that they were making good progress, few expected they would beat the reigning All-Ireland champions.
However, Offaly rose to the demands on all fronts and held their nerve in the closing minutes to win by a point.
Galway 2-14 Cork 1-13
(1979 All-Ireland semi-final)
Cork won the All-Ireland treble in 1976, '77 and '78 and after making it five in a row in Munster in '79, they were well fancied to emulate the 1941-44 side, which won four All-Ireland titles.
Galway were well beaten by Kilkenny in the '78 semi-final and lost the '79 league final to Tipperary by 16 points. It looked well set up for Cork, but Galway raised their game to new levels to win by four points.
Galway 4-12 Cork 5-5
(1985 All-Ireland semi-final)
Cork won the 1984 All-Ireland title; Galway lost the semi-final to Offaly by 14 points. Cyril Farrell took over as Galway manager and completely overhauled the squad, sending a new-look outfit into the '85 All-Ireland semi-final in what was their first championship game together.
Cork were hot favourites after winning the Munster title but Galway, for whom Bernie Forde, Noel Lane, Joe Cooney and Brendan Lynskey scored goals, remained doggedly defiant.
John Fenton countered with 3-2 for Cork but it wasn't enough on an afternoon when the torrential rain kept the crowd down to 8,205.
Waterford 2-23 Tipp 3-12
(2002 Munster final)
Waterford hadn't won a championship game in 2000 or 2001 and while they beat Cork in the '02 semi-final, it was thought that Tipperary, the reigning All-Ireland champions, would be much too good for them.
Tipperary led by a point at half-time in the final but lost the second half by 1-14 to 2-2.
Paul Flynn (1-6), Ken McGrath (0-7) and John Mullane (0-4) were Waterford's main marksmen as the Deise won the Munster title for the first time since 1963.
Offaly 0-19 Cork 0-15
(2000 All-Ireland semi-final)
Offaly won the 1998 All-Ireland title but were in rapid decline two years later when they somehow managed to summon a performance from the glory days of the past to dethrone the All-Ireland champions.
Kilkenny beat Offaly by 11 points in the Leinster final, but with Johnny Dooley shooting 0-7, the midlanders grew in power and confidence in the second half against Cork. Offaly lost the final to Kilkenny by 13 points.
Dublin 0-19 Offaly 1-14
(1991 Leinster semi-final)
An encouraging pointer for the current Dublin team. The 1991 version turned in an excellent performance which stunned Offaly, who were bidding to win the Leinster title for a fourth successive year.
Offaly warmed up for the championship in impressive style, winning the Division 1 league title for the first time, but they were worn down by a resolute Dublin side for whom MJ Ryan was top scorer with 0-5.
Clare 2-11 Tipperary 0-13
(1994 Munster quarter-final)
At face value, it may not look that big a shock, but it came against a background where Tipperary had beaten Clare so comprehensively in the 1993 Munster final (3-27 to 2-12) that it was felt the Banner had little chance of gaining revenge so quickly.
But, in what was a pointer to the momentum Clare were beginning to build, they won by four points. 'Babs' Keating, who had been in charge of Tipperary for eight seasons, resigned afterwards.