Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rachel Wyse: Hurling's cup flows over as Dubs turn up the heat

Dublin manager Anthony Daly
Dublin manager Anthony Daly

Rachel Wyse

This summer is one of another era. It belongs to a time few can easily recall. Ireland is a land of blue skies, scorching heat and a hurling landscape in which much has changed.

Remember the days when Dublin were champions of Leinster, Kilkenny appeared vulnerable and Tipperary had no involvement in the championship beyond the first week of July? This is the hurling championship of summer 2013, the times we live in.

With All-Ireland final Sunday almost two months away, the business end of proceedings is fast approaching.

Second chances are in short supply now. Excuses cut little ice; we are in do-or-die territory.

Kilkenny and Tipperary knew it last Saturday evening in Nowlan Park. Tipp folk had their nostrils filled with the smell of enemy blood. After all, Kilkenny were deemed vulnerable, and Tipperary believed victory in Nowlan Park would finish an era of black-and-amber dominance.

But try as they might to erase the pain inflicted upon them by the Cats in recent times, it just didn't happen. Kilkenny refused to wilt. Powered by their six backs and Eoin Larkin, the reigning league and All-Ireland champions dug deep.

It was a performance built on pride; nothing matters in Kilkenny like hurling.

Opinions are formed and judgments are passed on a man's character solely on the basis of his ability to perform in a Kilkenny jersey.


Those lucky enough to be in Nowlan Park know it will be many moons before we see again the likes of Larkin and his team-mates who defended Kilkenny's goal in the second half. Proper men doing what they do best.

Yet again, Tipp hearts were broken and for a team used to the surrounds of Croke Park in autumn the reality of their hurling year finishing in July is a tough one. If the talk prior to Saturday was the possible end of an era on Noreside, by Sunday it was Tipp's seasoned performers who were under the spotlight. Should it be the end for some, they depart owing their fans or hurling very little.

Kilkenny go to Thurles this evening to face Waterford. Replicating the highs of last week is going to very difficult for Brian Cody's men and that makes Waterford dangerous.

Expect the Deise to move the ball quickly and exploit the open spaces of Semple Stadium. Waterford are a good ball-playing team and the longer they can avoid getting into a physical confrontation with Kilkenny, the better their prospects.

While Kilkenny's list of injured personnel remains so lengthy, they are eminently beatable – as Dublin proved. Having defeated Cody's team in a replay, Dublin proceeded to back up that groundbreaking victory with an even more impressive performance in last Sunday's Leinster final.

In the opening half, they dismantled a lacklustre Galway team with slick movement and clever hurling.

In recent weeks, Dublin have added an intelligence to their approach. It has afforded their best stickmen the chance to shine. For too long under Anthony Daly, their approach relied too heavily on fitness and physicality.

Those aspects of the game remain important but not more important than the sliotar.

Daly and his staff now have their men using the ball properly and there is a distinct approach to the way they attack, with low, bouncing balls hit to their inside-forwards.

These Dublin hurlers are a courageous bunch. I admire their belief.

Last year was horrific for the Dublin camp but they regrouped and took it on again this year. Anything they have got to date they truly earned, and after a first Leinster triumph in 52 years they now ready themselves for an All-Ireland semi-final in August.

On the evidence of their performances since Wexford Park, Dublin are real All-Ireland contenders. Exciting times in the capital.

For every up, there is a down and whatever way you look at last Sunday, Galway were an extreme disappointment. They didn't turn up. The lack of match practice has been cited as an excuse, a story that hasn't changed from their time in Connacht.

Historically, Galway teams seldom put good years back to back, and seeing will be believing where the current outfit is concerned. The game of hurling is just different and tomorrow we have an occasion that helps make it so.

The Muster final has nothing like it. Among the natives it's cherished, a day precious to a select group, and they have no hesitation in promoting its charms.

They speak of a Munster final like it has a mystical element. Even in an era of back-door systems, tomorrow is a second All-Ireland for the counties involved.

Crowds will gather early, the banter will be loud and good-natured; colours, old and new, will dazzle along the Ennis road under the promised sun as it sits high in the sky. Proud people will sing their national anthem with great gusto. It's what makes hurling and Munster final day great.

As for the game, Limerick under the very shrewd John Allen are making real progress, but I think Cork will be Munster champions. Slowly, in his own special way, I see Jimmy Barry-Murphy moulding a team capable of contending for silverware in September. They may be a young and physically a year or so shy of what's required, but they have some very smart, skilful hurlers.

Some past players have struggled to come to terms with the passing of time but their sad, publicly aired resistance hasn't deterred Cork's manager. Just reward may well come JBM's way tomorrow evening.

Despite it only being July, this hurling year is already unique. Talk of hurling being in decline is surely premature. Power is slowly shifting. Feile na Gael and senior Leinster titles all in the one weekend for Dublin; Limerick and Cork are challenging with young sides; Clare are building on recent underage success; while Waterford, Wexford and Galway remain in the hunt to end Kilkenny's dominance.

Not alone for the ice cream vendor has this has been a great summer.

Irish Independent

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