Three Munster teams in the final four
This year’s Munster championship was one of the most surprising, exhilarating and enthralling competitions in recent years, courtesy of the new round-robin structure. Every game was hotly contested with no team getting an easy ride. At one stage, each team had a realistic chance of reaching the final, going to the qualifiers or exiting the championship completely, that is how close the competition was.
It’s no wonder that each team was forced to up their performance week-on-week and as a result, we have three Munster teams in the All Ireland semi-finals, each team good enough to reach the final. The Munster hurling championship has been the best competition in the GAA for years and this just confirms it.
Can any team stop Galway?
Despite the dominance of the Munster championship, it is the Leinster champions who are the hot favourites to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup for the second year running. Clare will have it all to do against them in the semi-final. They are hugely organised, physical, defensively solid plus they have one of the best forward packs in the country.
But Kilkenny showed in the Leinster final that they are beatable. They played intelligent hurling to drag Galway’s marquee players out of the game and matched them for skill and physicality in the first game and almost snatched victory from under their noses last week. We have already seen Limerick and Galway do battle in the league with Limerick being promoted over Micheal Donoghue’s men. Could they or either of the other two cause a huge upset?
Youth triumphs over experience
This tournament has been littered with young stars from Darragh Fitzgibbon to Damien Reck to Kyle Hayes, all who have been instrumental characters for their respective teams. It’s always said that the youth play without fear and that can result in brilliance and/or disaster. But what these players have shown this summer is that they can also remain level-headed and cool. They have the skill, the talent and also the intelligence to be great hurlers.
Take Limerick for example and how much their young team have grown in stature from last year. Their decision making, their teamwork have all improved and this from a team brimming with stars from the U21 winning team of 2017. Cian Lynch, Sean Finn, Tom Morrissey and Aaron Gillane are all just 22 years of age and have been key men for Limerick all year long, especially in the win over Kilkenny.
Kilkenny have lost the ‘fear factor’
Kilkenny will be disappointed with their performances this summer. They tried out new strategies and new players and while they showed glimpses of the Kilkenny of old, they are a different team now who have to have different expectations. If you look at the game against Dublin, they were shellshocked at how easily Dublin were able to read their play and counteract it. They were lucky to get through that game but their luck ran out against Galway and Limerick.
Few gave them a chance to even make an impact in this championship given the way they started their league campaign and yet look how that ended for them. Regardless of who is on the pitch, the one constant through every Kilkenny team is their heart and determination. They proved that against Galway. They may not sit on the pedestal of hurling anymore but they will always be one of the great counties.
Hurling deserves more respect from the GAA
What this last weekend of hurling proved is that it remains one of the most thrilling and enjoyable sports in the country. Fans from all the counties involved are passionate and supportive while neutrals remain in awe of what they see. Players, management and backroom staff give their all to the sport. They deserve the upmost respect for what they do not just from supporters, but from the GAA itself.
This weekend we say the two hurling quarter finals scheduled on different days in different venues. Clare and Wexford had to travel to Cork on Saturday evening while Limerick and Kilkenny made the short journey to Thurles. If the GAA thought that separating the fixtures was a good idea, they would have got a harsh wake-up call when they saw the attendance figures. 10,255 were in Pairc Ui Chaoimh while less than 18,600 turned up in Semple Stadium. The best path would have been to host a double-header in Thurles and reduced the ticket prices given the amount of money fans have already had to pay given the round-robin series. Supporters are beginning to feel disillusioned with the organisation and they should be trying much harder to get them back on side.