Semple drama restores faith in provincials
FOR those who needed reminding about the value of the provincial championships, Semple Stadium on Saturday night was where they needed to be.
Cork and Waterford scrapped it out for the Munster title and it took Dan Shanahan's second coming to decide the tie. Judging by the scenes on Saturday night, it's obvious how much that Munster title meant to Waterford, while Cork made no secret of the fact they wanted to garner provincial honours after a couple of unhappy winters on Leeside that hampered their preparations.
Kilkenny are Leinster champions again, but the introduction of Antrim and particularly Galway makes that province more competitive and should silence those calling for an open draw or any other form of alteration to the championship structures.
The Munster final went along the same lines as the drawn game, only in this case Waterford stuck to the game plan until the end and reaped the rewards.
Once again, Michael 'Brick' Walsh was superb in a half-back line that, as a unit, is improving with every outing. In front of them, Richie Foley and Shane O'Sullivan in midfield are getting better and gaining confidence, and at corner-back, Noel Connors is having a season to remember.
And, of course, Davy Fitzgerald's side can now only meet Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final -- and avoiding Brian Cody's side for as long as possible is the best course of action.
It's a bitter blow for Cork, who have to regroup and prepare for next weekend. It's a quick turnaround for a team that missed the influence of Sean Og O hAilpin in their half-back line, even if his replacement Shane O'Neill did hurl well until he was forced off injured.
By the time Ronan Curran was taken off, Cork were delving deep into their considerable resources and that told in the end.
There could be an over-reaction and the finger of blame might point towards the big men in the forwards, Aisake O hAilpin and Michael Cussen. It's fair to say that neither of them had their best game, but on a day when it just didn't happen for Cork in attack, there were plenty of other forwards and players that will have to hold their hands up. A total of 13 wides and four spurned goal chances tells its own story of where they need to improve.
Further north, Antrim were upsetting the odds when plundering Croke Park and knocking Dublin out of the championship.
It will have been a great boost to Dinny Cahill and he will feel all the long trips up north have been worth his while. The Saffrons would have had no fear of playing Dublin, even if they weren't fancied going into the game, and you could see that in the way they kept going right until the end.
Anthony Daly is considering his future with Dublin, but the county board should do all in their power to persuade the Clare man to stay. It's fair to say that question-marks hang over the Dubs' temperament after they let a lead slip in Croke Park in much the same way as they did against Limerick last year, but Daly has still made considerable progress.
They have added another Leinster U-21 title to their recent underage haul and that can only be a good sign. I believe Daly is the right man to mould that talent into an impressive team.
Tipperary's game against Offaly went along the expected lines yesterday and it sets up an interesting clash with Galway next weekend. John McIntyre's side have had time to lick their wounds since the Kilkenny defeat, but Tipp will be favourites going into that one and the winners of that game will go into the last four full of confidence.
Finally, Cork will be expected to get past Antrim despite the injuries they picked up.