Wednesday 26 June 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Leinster hurling living in the shadow of Munster'

 

Rebel hotshot: Patrick Horgan of Cork celebrates after scoring his side’s goal against Limerick yesterday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Rebel hotshot: Patrick Horgan of Cork celebrates after scoring his side’s goal against Limerick yesterday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Mary Queen of Scots owned a watch shaped like a skull as a reminder that despite her power she was still mortal. The Leinster Championship serves the same purpose for hurling supporters.

Watching the Galway-Wexford game after a fortnight of Munster heroics was like stepping off a plane home from a sun holiday, only to be assailed by the wind and rain of a particularly foul Irish afternoon.

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The American writer Randall Jarrell once noted that, "people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks." Some of them do anyway. Like the spoilsports complaining of late that contemporary hurling has too many scores, moves too fast and may have become dangerously entertaining.

These puritan souls must have loved the game in Pearse Stadium. No excessive scoring there, just sixteen points each for teams who missed the target almost as often as they hit it.

They couldn't sustain the pace set in an opening twenty minutes with six scores and fourteen wides but Galway and Wexford never allowed the game to degenerate into a carefree scoring carnival.

The final six minutes was a microcosm of proceedings as both teams flailed away in search of a winner and failed to secure it amid a general air of panic. Davy Glennon went through for Galway but couldn't make a proper contact. Then Cathal Dunbar, presented with the option of a goal or point, drove his shot straight at Colm Callanan before Lee Chin rounded things off by driving the last chance well wide.

Chin's display deserves to go down in the annals of hurling history. It was like Seamus Callanan's tour de force in the 2016 All-Ireland final but with wides instead of points.

There's a tendency to laud players for the 'moral courage' required to keep shooting when they've missed the target earlier on. But sometimes you need to just give things up as a bad job.

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A stadium which resembled a windy links course didn't help. But saying the poor devil had a good game otherwise is like suggesting Abraham Lincoln's wife had a fun night at the theatre apart from the bit at the end.

The Wexford joint captain was not the only player affected by the general malaise. We're used to thrilling Munster finales where teams rise to and raise each other to new heights. This was more like a race to the bottom.

The Leinster Championship's decrepitude compared to its Munster counterpart matters for reasons other than provincial pride. Last year when Galway encountered an unfancied Clare team in the All-Ireland semi-final, it was obvious their relatively easy passage through Leinster left them underprepared for opposition who'd come through an ultra-competitive Munster Championship.

The Tribesmen survived thanks to the brilliance of Joe Canning and poor Clare finishing but the realisation of Leinster's deficiency was confirmed when they lost the All-Ireland final to Limerick. Kilkenny and Wexford both exited last year's championship once confronted by Munster opposition and probably will again this year.

The imbalance in provincial power raises questions about championship structure. It hardly seems fair that one of Clare, Cork and Limerick will exit early while both teams who played yesterday will probably make the knockout stages. The fourth team in Munster, whoever they are, will be a better team than the number three, or maybe even number two, team in Leinster.

Leinster lacks the rigour of Munster. Galway seem convinced they can play well below their best and still cruise through the province. They're probably right, but the lack of anything resembling the tests already overcome by Tipperary and Cork will tell in the long term.

Munster is an environment perfectly designed to create All-Ireland contenders. Leinster seems a backwater by comparison, a championship where only two group games managed to draw more than 15,000 fans last year - when six Munster matches drew more than 20,000.

Galway's current chronic underperformance may inject a small note of suspense but they'll hardly lose to both Kilkenny and Dublin and miss out on qualification. Chances are they will still reach a Leinster final which may see the return of Joe Canning.

Their struggles in his absence illustrate his importance. Canning is not just a scoring machine but a leader who makes everyone around him play better. Without him Galway look shakier than a Fine Gael TD on a swing.

Wexford are a team made in the image of Davy Fitzgerald, brimming with passion and almost entirely lacking in composure. His team will be happy enough with this draw. It should eventually bring them through to another quarter-final where their limitations will once more be exposed. But not as severely as those of their province will be when the real stuff gets underway.

Home of the second-rate game and the also-ran team, the Leinster is the hurling championship that doesn't matter anymore.

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