Although you wouldn’t really know it from last Sunday afternoon as the competition petered out in an anti-climactic fashion, the Munster hurling championship is one of the jewels in the GAA’s crown.
It’s got a near perfect competitive balance, with five top quality sides. It’s got tradition and rivalries. It’s got box-office appeal as the ticking turnstiles over the last five or six weeks have proven.
The round-robin – back after a two-year hiatus – has been an undoubted hit. So much so that the Munster championship has thus far put its Leinster equivalent in the shade.
Little wonder then that Munster hurling people are highly protective of their championship. And, honestly, we can’t blame them. Yes, there’s a certain amount of snobbery involved – snobbery in hurling, can you imagine such a thing? – but for the most part they’re right, Munster is different, Munster is special.
Still that doesn’t really excuse the closed-shop that’s been set-up, designed expressly we would argue, to bar Kerry from entry. How else can you explain the need for a play-off for Kerry to qualify for the Munster championship should they win next week’s Joe McDonagh Cup, when Antrim will earn direct passage to the Leinster championship if they triumph?
It really does feel like that GAA’s version of Animal Farm, all counties are equal, it’s just that some counties are more equal than others. All the same, it would seem particularly harsh on Tipperary to have to spend a year at McDonagh Cup level after finishing bottom of the ultra-competitive Munster round-robin.
As bad as they were this year – and they were bad – nobody would seriously argue that the Premier are not vastly overqualified for the Joe Mac. Relegating one of the Munster big five would be nuts... and yet still we’re left with the question of what to do with Kerry.
The imposition of a potential play-off with Tipp remains deeply unfair. Why not instead arrange it so that six teams can compete in Munster?
Probably the hurling snobs wouldn’t like to see Kerry in there as grist to the big guns’ mill, but games against Kerry could offer a chance for experimentation and squad rotation.
In Leinster Kilkenny have to play Laois and the likes, so why shouldn’t Cork rock on up to Austin Stack Park of a sunny Sunday afternoon? The chances are Kerry would struggle to compete in the near-term, but they should at least be given the chance.
Westmeath – who Kerry should have beaten in the league semi-final this year remember – drew memorably a couple of weeks ago with Wexford proving that anything is possible.
As for how to determine who goes back down to the McDonagh Cup it’s quite simple, a play-off between the bottom placed team in Munster and Leinster.
The chances are that 99 times out of 100 it would be contested by those yo-yo counties between Joe Mac and Liam Mac anyway and if, somehow, a Tipp or a Waterford managed to finish below the Kingdom then they probably do deserve to be in threat of relegation.
Time to give Kerry a fair shake.
Liverpool keeping the show on the road
A ripple went around the crowd at Anfield, much like on the previous two occasions Aston Villa had scored. It quickly turned raucous. On a day of twists and turns, why not another? If it felt too good to be true, that’s because it was.
Flicking over from Anfield to Eastlands the score remained stubbornly in Manchester City’s favour. Maybe the footage was on a delay, we wondered, before checking the Livescore app. There too City led. Villa’s third goal, a phantom. It really is true what they say, the hope just kills you.
As a Liverpool fan those two hours on Sunday afternoon were nothing short of tortuous. With Wolves scoring first, the Reds had given themselves a bit of a uphill task.
Their play a bit loose, their desperation for first an equaliser and then a winner leaving Jurgen Klopp’s men vulnerable, despite their obvious superiority.
The worst of it, though, was when Liverpool had it back to one-all and Steven Gerrard’s side had gone one clear. The result Liverpool needed to happen seemed on the brink of coming to pass, and they themselves weren’t yet in a position to take advantage. Tense doesn’t even come close to describing it.
As sporting drama goes, you could really ask for more, though. As a television spectacle the Premier League hit it out of the ball park. City fans disbelieving what was happening when Villa went two clear.
Pep Guardiola springing Ilkay Gundogan to score the match-winner. Three goals in the space of about five minutes in a demonstration of brute power and prowess.
Remarkable stuff all round. A high-stakes denouement to one of the fiercest title races in history with truly worthy champions. City are exceptional. They may never be loved, thanks to Liverpool though their brilliance will be better appreciated.
Had City won this title race pulling up – as they appeared likely to with Liverpool fourteen points behind at one stage – their title triumph would seem pro-forma.
With the way it panned out, it’s rightly being lauded as the triumph that it is. As annoying as Liverpool are to City, the sky blues need them. The Premier League desperately needed them this year too.
No question, Liverpool kept the show on the road. Take them out of the equation and City’s domination of the domestic scene would be near untrammelled. This year’s win is City’s fourth in five years, Liverpool’s 2020 win the only fly in the ointment.
And, honestly, it looks like City are going nowhere, using their financial might to bludgeon all before them. Erling Haaland already signed up with Kalvin Philips likely to follow. It feels like City are in the process of doing a Bayern on the Premier League.
The resource gap between City and their rivals isn’t quite what Bayern have at their disposal domestically, but it is real. It’s probably going to take Chelsea a few years to get back on an even keel after the end of the Abramovich era, and it’s going to take Erik ten Hag a few years to sort out Manchester United.
In the meantime it remains up to Liverpool to keep City honest.
Wimbledon’s Russian row rumbles on
Tuesday of this week was three months to the day since the Russian bear bore its teeth and invaded neighbouring Ukraine.
In that time we’ve seen, heard and read things to make your hair stand on end. The casual barbarity of the Russian invasion has rightly shocked the world, and us in the West in particular, who never imagined such events ever playing out on the European continent ever again (although given our bloody history one would have to wonder why).
Despite that, there’s still a danger that it can become background noise to a lot of us the longer it goes on (and signs are we’re nowhere near the beginning of the end or even the end of the beginning).
With lives to live and other concerns to think about, it’s only natural our initial visceral response would fade. Not out of any malice or badness, just simple human nature.
Perhaps, that explains why there seems to be a bit of a backlash gathering steam to Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belorussian competitors from this year’s championships in SW17, most recently aired by John McEnroe.
The American tennis great making clear in comments this week that he feels it’s unfair on Russian players, such as US Open champ Daniil Medvedev.
And, he’s probably right in that regard. It is unfair on Medvedev and it’s unfair on tennis fans everywhere that we won’t get to see the Muscovite in action on Centre Court this summer.
That, however, is to take a very narrow view of it. Is it more important individuals – such as Medvedev – get fair play or is it more important to effect a cultural and sporting boycott of the Russian Federation?
We’d argue that the authorities at the All England club are right to do as they’re doing – there’s a reason Israel, for instance, is so against BDS, as boycotts do work – but it would be wrong not to acknowledge that there are draw-backs to it as well. By banning Russians from the event it does play into some of Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric about the West’s stance of Russia and Russians.
It’s a messy, ugly row, that’s taken a few turns this week with the ATP stripping the event of ranking points, but it’s hardly as ugly as what’s happening in Ukraine.
Let’s never lose sight of that.