Editorial: 'Hurling feast warmed the hearts of all sports fans'
The beautiful weather has sharpened our interest in all sports from tennis to cycling. True Irish sporting people are never likely to put a boundary to their sporting interests and each season brings its own delights.
But very many people, from every corner of the island, reserve a special affection for and interest in the ancient game of hurling. It is played to a high level in perhaps just a dozen counties, at kindest estimates, but the speed, skill and bravery required to play top-level hurling is revered in most every parish in the country.
The inter-county game has been enjoying something of a resurgence in the past two years with a new format helping showcase the best players more frequently.
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This past weekend brought us to the All Ireland semi-final stage with Kilkenny and 2018 champions Limerick facing off on Saturday evening, and Tipperary and Wexford lining out yesterday afternoon. The four counties served up a level of skill and effort to bring joy to the nation.
Two pulsating games kept the rapt attention of huge attendances of people in Croke Park, on television screens across Ireland and by various means for Irish exiles and their friends in many corners of the world.
There was magic on display in well-taken and timely goals by Shane Dowling, of Limerick, and the Wexford hero, Lee Chin. There was fanatical support by the supporters of both those counties who travelled in hopes that their potential arrival as part of the establishment in the top tier of hurling could be assured. Their narrow last-minute defeats do not negate these bids. Their heroism on the day speaks for itself and it assured that there will be other, more successful days, for the hurlers of Wexford and Limerick.
That most talented group of under-achievers of recent years in Tipperary will grace another final. They will face evergreen Kilkenny, guided by the indomitable Brian Cody, who has forgotten more about hurling than most of us will ever know. It will be an old-firm derby watched by all sports fans across Ireland and beyond.
As the 2019 hurling championship draws to a close, and we are looking towards that final on August 18, the appraisals of the season are already being contemplated. We can again see that the round-robin championships in Munster and Leinster are a valuable way of showcasing much that is good in the game. This year, in contrast to 2018, the better contested matches happened in Leinster. Galway, now established as competitors east of the Shannon, went to Nowlan Park and beat Kilkenny.
The hurlers of Dublin, who have been working hard and knocking on that door for more than a decade, then caused a surprise by ousting Galway. Then Laois astonished everyone by seeing off the Dublin hurlers with a performance which we all hope is a portent of things to come.
This weekend there was an added garnish as that great GAA-man and golfing hero, Shane Lowry, was warmly welcomed on to Croke Park by 55,000 applauding fans. These are moments to live for.