Monday 20 November 2017

Half team, half price

Anyone who shows up to watch Limerick on Sunday deserves discount

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

PLANTED in October, bedding in through the winter, bursting into growth in spring, ripening in the heat of summer and harvested in golden September. That's the sequence of ambition for every county team and, while more often missed than attained, it's what energises the GAA community.

Regrettably, it's different in Limerick hurling this year. The last eight months have left them not with a field of dreams but a landscape rendered bleak by their own actions. Just how desolate it really is will become apparent in the Munster semi-final on Sunday.

Cork are 1/50 favourites to win so, in theory, if Limerick sponsor JP McManus, or any other suitably prosperous individual wants to add €20,000 loose change to their fortunes all they have to do is toss an idle million on the Rebels.

Of course, there isn't a bookie in the universe who would accept such a bet because they know that, however ridiculous odds of 1/50 may appear, they are actually longer than they should be.


Unless the entire Cork squad are hit by invisible tranquilising darts as they run onto the pitch, there isn't even the distant cousin of a remote possibility that they will be beaten.

What is essentially a second-string Limerick team will battle bravely but can't be expected to offer a sustained challenge at a level for which many of them are, as yet at least, unqualified. It means that what should be a grand hurling occasion has become seriously devalued.

The Limerick squad who are trying to punch above their weight carry no responsibility for the mess. Good luck to them in their efforts to develop into top-class county players.

That does not alter the fact that Limerick are way below full strength for what would be massive test even if they could deal from a full deck. The full impact of the mismatch will become evident at the turnstiles.

After all, why should the public pay top market rate when one of the counties is not fielding its strongest team? Surely, supporters are entitled to a pro-rata reduction. Half price seems like a fair compromise.

As for the TV coverage, it's bizarre that Cork v Limerick is timed as the afternoon's main event at 4.0 on TV3, with Kilkenny v Dublin being shown on the same channel from 2.0.

TV schedules are worked out months in advance but the Limerick row has been rumbling on since last October so it's not as if all the interested parties weren't aware of the situation for a long time.

It means that Kilkenny begin their pursuit of the historic five-in-a-row in the first game against Dublin in Croke Park with Galway v Offaly filling the 4.0 slot.

Kilkenny won't allow throw-in times to distract them but as champions, they should have prime billing.

Once it became apparent that the Limerick row would not be solved, the clash with Cork should have been removed from the TV rota and replaced with both Leinster semi-finals, handing Galway-Offaly the 2.0 start, followed by Kilkenny v Dublin.

TV schedules and value-for-money considerations apart, the Limerick situation offers a worrying snapshot of the dangerous territory into which the GAA has wandered. Strife involving managers and players isn't exactly new but is now in a different zone in respect of its long-term impact.

This is the first time that it has led to a county entering the senior championships in such a weakened condition. That it has happened in hurling, where only 13 counties are deemed strong enough to compete for the Liam McCarthy Cup, makes it all the more damaging.

The potential for serious trouble was evident from very early on in the clash between Justin McCarthy and the 2009 panel.

What was required at that stage was leadership from the Limerick County Board, the Munster Council and Croke Park. Neither the Munster Council nor Croke Park can claim this has got nothing to do with them.

Ultimately, the GAA is a large family and if some of the younger children (Limerick) are squabbling among themselves it's up to the older ones (Munster Council) to intervene and, if that fails, the parents (Croke Park) have to find a solution.

It didn't happen in Limerick and the upshot is that such a precious promotional vehicle as the Munster semi-final has been allowed to crash.

The comical aspect is that an attempt is being made to show that it's business as usual by granting Cork-Limerick the prime TV slot on Sunday's TV schedule.

The last time Cork played Limerick in the Munster hurling semi-final in 2004, it drew 31,700 people to the Gaelic Grounds. It will be a surprise if it attracts even half that this time.

Irish Independent

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