Sport Hurling

Monday 19 March 2018

John Mullane: League of sensations makes me eat my words

Mullane on Monday

I'M convinced we're in the midst of another revolutionary period for inter-county hurling. We're headed back to the 1990s – when a cluster of teams competed regularly for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

We may still end up with a Tipperary v Kilkenny Allianz National Hurling League final but what a situation we have now in Division 1A. It's all up for grabs ahead of Sunday's final round of fixtures and Waterford were the big winners this weekend.

And the way things are going overall, I predict that in the next year or two, we'll have a wide open championship again. How good would that be?

Think back to the '90s, when Clare, Wexford, Limerick and Offaly competed on an equal footing with the 'traditional' counties. Those days are coming again.

Hats off to the GAA for this league format too. I was critical of it when it was tweaked again last year but I'm eating my words this morning. There's absolutely no margin for error, as Tipperary found out to their cost at Walsh Park yesterday.

Five points up, Tipp thought the game was in the bag but Waterford responded with a fantastic run to pinch the win. And there they are, sitting pretty at the top of Division 1A. Who would have thought that at the start of the season? Not me, I have to admit.

I heard former Wexford player Tom Dempsey said some nice things about me on the radio, about how great it would be if I returned to inter-county hurling.

Does Waterford's form tempt me back? No, because I made my decision and there's nothing within me telling me to go back. Besides, I'm slowly but surely adapting to life as a spectator and I'm enjoying my time away from inter-county hurling.

But I'll be honest – Waterford have surprised me. And what Michael Ryan has now is real competition for places. He left goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe and Pauric Mahony, an All Star nominee two years ago, out of the team yesterday and they still got that result.

The younger lads that have come in have done really well but I've never seen a performance like the one delivered by Michael 'Brick' Walsh yesterday. He saw off four different markers and can anybody tell me a better performance from a No 6 over the last decade?

What also impressed me about Waterford was how they kept going right to the end. That's a big motto of mine. People within the ground would have thought it was game over when Tipp were five ahead, but Waterford kept at it and got their just reward. I watched Tipp's win over Galway when I was in New York for St Patrick's weekend and for me, it was the performance of the league so far.

I thought Tipp were really motoring well and this defeat will be a setback for them.

For me, it was all about which Tipp team turned up at Walsh Park.

If it was the Tipp team that demolished Galway in Salthill, you had to be convinced that they would win again but perhaps they believed some of the hype that surrounded that performance. Five points up, it seemed to me that they thought they had the job done, that all they had to do was cruise to the finish.

Elsewhere, 12 wides in the second half cost Clare dear against Kilkenny. Clare had an awful lot of possession but mistakes are going to prove costly in this league. Look at last week's results – Tipp beat Galway and Clare go to Cork and win but now, Tipp and Clare will battle it out next Sunday at Semple Stadium in a real do-or-die game. Win and you're looking at the semi-finals but lose and you could be sucked into a relegation battle. It's the same for Cork and Kilkenny, and Galway are coming to Walsh Park in a similar position.

I was surprised Galway only drew yesterday, incidentally. After the heavy Tipp defeat, I thought they'd bounce back to winning ways against Cork. But for the neutral, how good is it that they didn't? Next Sunday promises to be so good. Six teams, three matches and all to play for.

I, for one, can't wait.

Irish Independent

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