Sport Hurling

Monday 18 December 2017

Billy Keane: Cork and Clare both cuter than a hedgehog in heat – we're in for a prickly affair

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

This week we had a taste of summer in autumn. Hay was still being saved and a topless man was spotted eating an ice cream on Kilkee's golden sands.

Strange times indeed. The All-Ireland hurling final is to be played at October's gate. And on a Saturday night at that, clashing with the last weekend of the matchmaking in Lisdoonvarna.

Do the GAA have any idea of the amount of possible marriages they have broken up before the couples have even met? And what about the long journey home after the match in the dead of night?

The wimmin are being blempt for pushing out the hurling into stubble time. Yes, the cornfields are as prickly as a hedgehog's back when innovative sausage and black pudding makers are out hunting for stuffing. People do eat hedgehogs. 'Alternative' people gave me a sandwich made from road kill hedgehog.

"You'd never guess what you just ate," they said after I had finished the last bite. It was nice enough. Could've done with a dollop of Chef sauce. You'd chew it warily, though, like fish, for fear of needles.

As we're on the topic, did any of you ever wonder how it is hedgehogs manage to mate? It is a conundrum that has bothered me ever since I first gleaned a full understanding of the phenomenon of the birds and the bees, around the time of my 40th birthday, or thereabouts.

But that is a story for telling by our esteemed colleague David Attenborough, and hidden cameras, which some might say is an invasion of the hedgehog's privacy – but then again, in the nature of things, the hedgehogs are unlikely to object.

GAA president Liam O'Neill is proving to be one of the best leaders the Association has ever had. He kept his word. It seems he solved a prickly equal rights issue by offering a permanent date for the ladies football final. Right, too, he was.

The weather will back the president. We are near the equinox gales but the forecast isn't at all bad. But what about the glare with the floodlights turned on – as they will be from the start? The sliotar can travel high and it will not be easy to pick out a dropping ball.

Clare have their most skilful team ever and play a high-tempo game. This replay will be fast and and furious.

The suspicion is Clare are the better battlers. Cork finally found their eye for goal. Cork will improve from the drawn game. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Clare will find it difficult to match the intensity of the drawn game. And what a feast of hurling we had with more twist and turns than the Christmas Day edition of a soap.

The referee was criticised for adding on a few precious second to allow Clare's Domhnall O'Donovan time to puck over that famous equalising point. It seems to have been forgotten that O'Donovan also saved Clare when he deflected Anthony Nash's shot off the crossbar

In my opinion the referee in last Sunday's football final could have made a draw out of it.

Joe McQuillan had a ready-made excuse. In the 2011 final between Dublin and Kerry, he allowed hardly enough injury-time for a man to light up his pipe.

McQuillan owed Dublin nothing. Still, to be fair, he did a decent job last Sunday, with one exception.

There is an old tradition in close battles to allow one last kick-out and the team that is behind then has a last-gasp chance to equalise. This chance was not given to Mayo.

That said, Dublin deserved to win. They fouled a lot in the closing stages but, in the context of the whole season, Dublin gave the beautiful game the makeover it so badly needed.

Bernard Brogan is an example to every player who is going through a bad patch. He came good. Big time. As we forecasted here back in June.

Dublin are worthy champions and Jim Gavin had the courage to allow his team to play open and attacking football.

As for Mayo, I would have been proud to be one of them last Sunday. Beaten only by a point. Away from home. A kick of a ball.

The wait goes on and, some day, this team will win an All-Ireland. They need luck with injuries and, if all their key players stay sound, I'd fancy the people's champions to win an All-Ireland in two or three years' time, when their excellent minor-winning team start to come through.

Inter-county football is over now until next year and so, this evening, we might well bid goodbye to the end of what has been one of the most exciting hurling championships ever. Barring another draw that is. You'd be lonesome after the GAA season.

The ferocity will intensify this evening. Second-time-round games are always needly. Memories of physical encounters are still fresh.

In the drawn game, the ref awarded a Cork player a yellow card for striking Clare's Darach Honan on the head when the ball was 50 metres up the field. It was a major incident.

But this time we heard nothing from the hurling immortals who protested so vehemently when Patrick Horgan was sent off for striking a Limerick player on the head. Horgan subsequently won his case on appeal.

Young Honan was dizzy for some time afterwards. "Ah sure what harm?" the hurling lads will say. "Won't it all be forgotten afterwards in the camaraderie of the neurosurgeon's waiting room?"

As the country's foremost hurling expert, living no more than eight miles from the ancestral home of Henry Shefflin, it might be appropriate to firm up on the prediction.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy is a great trainer. Davy Fitz is better at lighting fires than Bear Grylls.

Cork is Ireland's best all-round sporting county, and hurling means more to Cork people than any other sport.

The fight in Clare means they are always more than the sum of their parts. Clare are faster. Cork are cuter.

Will Clare play a sweeper? Will Cork play two up front? What do Biddy Early and Cathy Barry think of it all?

We tossed a coin and amazingly the euro landed on its side. Another draw?

Irish Independent

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