Tuesday 21 November 2017

Just one of those days

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WHEN sport makes fools of us all, best not pretend to be a sage whose wisdom regulator blew a fuse. It's more appropriate to embrace the reality that sport thrives on eccentricity, reserving to itself the inalienable right to disregard precedent and present an entirely new case, based on a whim.

That's what happened last Sunday when it opted to shred the convincing book of evidence supporting the view that Kilkenny would beat Galway, probably reasonably comfortably. Instead, it reverted to lesser-used case law, which decrees that every so often Galway break Kilkenny's strict security code.

Against that background, it would be unwise to be too dogmatic about any aspect of the Leinster final. It's also why Anthony Cunningham made damn sure that once the Bob O'Keeffe Cup was politely welcomed across the Shannon for the first time, it was placed under house arrest. For Galway, moving east was always about improving their All-Ireland prospects and never about celebrating victory in a province with which they have no real affinity.

Cunningham has zoomed up the popularity parade in Galway, hoisted there by some of the same people who muttered about him being out of his depth after three league defeats, the last of which was a 25-point trimming by Kilkenny in early April.


It left Galway in a relegation play-off with Dublin and Cunningham facing charges of naiveté for placing too much faith in last year's U-21 All-Ireland winners.

Three months later, he's portrayed as a strategic genius, having plotted Kilkenny's biggest championship defeat since Offaly beat them by 11 points in the 1995 Leinster final.

Cunningham is being praised for, among other things, using Damien Hayes away from his usual corner-forward berth, yet John McIntyre was criticised for doing that in the 2010 Leinster final. The difference was, of course, that Kilkenny beat Galway two years ago. It's a small point, but it shows how the same tactical move is viewed so differently in victory and defeat.

Cunningham knows that however many accolades he receives over the coming weeks, most will be withdrawn if Galway don't win the All-Ireland semi-final, at least. That's the way of the modern world and has certainly been the case in Galway hurling for a long time.

Even Brian Cody has got a few lashes across the shins since Sunday. That's hardly surprising since there's a growing band of former players who will spew out any old nonsense if it helps get their voices on the airwaves.

Remarkably, it appears to work for them so it was inevitable that Cody would take the odd hit. His failing? He didn't respond quickly enough to Galway's early surge.

Ever tried stopping a tsunami? Short of spiriting in three extra players behind the referee's back, there was nothing Cody -- or Kilkenny -- could have done.

You see, it was one of those days when Galway were empowered with a force not seen in maroon-and-white since the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final.

Sport had delivered another gloriously unpredictable occasion and, in the process, greatly encouraged not only all the other survivors in the hurling championship but their football counterparts too. All outsiders will be reminded of the Leinster final upset in dressing-rooms this weekend and beyond.

In terms of the hurling championship, Galway's win has reconfigured many of the possibilities. One certainty is that Kilkenny will be in the quarter-finals, a presence which will add to the occasion as public interest focuses on how they respond to the new challenge.

Now, drawing Kilkenny may be the equivalent of getting a bullet in the post but, at the same time, their opponents (Cork, Wexford, Clare or Limerick) will be emboldened by the video of the Leinster final.

Mind you, hasn't Kilkenny's response been interesting? Despite having their season blown off course, they felt no need to take the crew into harbour for a detailed debrief.

Instead, they will hurl for their clubs as planned next weekend, prior to reassembling for county duty. Clearly, they don't think that their vessel has suffered any serious structural damage. Did anybody actually believe it had, other than the hindsight experts who now claim they had 'a feeling' that Kilkenny would lose last Sunday? Sure they had!

Irish Independent

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