The semi-finals were drenched with everything you would hope for, outrageous scores, magical skill and drama aplenty.
The weekend was nothing short of a feast of hurling but, as is always the case in the modern-day, conversations soon turned to set-ups, systems and tactics. Most notably, Kilkenny’s perceived lack of tactics and Wexford’s use of the sweeper.
It is a narrative that has dominated the hurling scene since 2013 when Clare won the All Ireland and following Sunday’s game, the angle taken by many was how the final two teams were comprised of Tipperary and Kilkenny, the two counties viewed as ‘old-style traditionalists’.
Of course, the idea that Brian Cody doesn’t use tactics is being broken down more and more each game and Galway star, Joe Canning, believes it is a “disrespectful” notion.
“To say Kilkenny don’t use tactics is a bit disrespectful to them”, Canning said at the preview of the Bórd Gáis Energy U-20 Hurling Championship semi-finals.
“Every team does. There’s a large amount. If you just think you can go out and hurl, and not care about what the other team does, you’ll be beaten more often than not.
“I saw a game on Eir Sport there during the summer. I think it was when we played Cork, one of my first, I think it was my third or fourth game with Galway. You had halfbacks that are legends of the game, and all they did, not saying all they did, but they got the ball and just drove it down the field. Whereas now if you did that, you’d be whipped off after two minutes.
“I think you’d be living under a stone if you weren’t [doing] tactics in some way or form. It’s all about trying to implement your own tactics on the other team, trying to win that battle area because you don’t want to play it on their terms either because they’re used to doing that and it suits their style. Whereas in Galway anyway, we’d be trying to impose our style on the other team, hopefully, get ahead of them early on.”
While most Irish eyes were glued to the hurling action at the weekend, Canning admits that he only watched “bits and pieces”. Given that Galway contested the last two All Ireland finals and were tipped to return to the decider at the start of 2019, the reluctance of the Portumna man to emerge himself fully as a hurling supporter is only natural.
“I think anybody that’s involved that would be want to be in those situations, playing in an All-Ireland semi-final, I don’t think they’d enjoy it really if truth be told. But yeah, that’s life.
“You’re trying to be a supporter in a way and just look at the hurling, because it’s obviously something you love, the game. You try to enjoy it as a spectacle but you don’t enjoy… It’s a weird one really.”
Much to the surprise of everyone, Galway exited the senior championship in June having failed to make it out of one of the most thrilling and memorable Leinster competitions in recent times. A week previous to their defeat to Dublin, Galway, minus the then-injured Canning, produced their best performance of the year to narrowly overcome the Cats by one point.
Having seen them up close and personal, the 30-year-old was not the least bit surprised that Cody’s side qualified for yet another All Ireland final.
“Kilkenny have guys coming back at the right time. They’ve Cillian Buckley, James Maher, Richie Hogan back now in the last couple of games. Eoin Murphy was back obviously.
“They had a lot of injuries at the start of the season. They’re getting all their big names back at the right time. So, it’s no surprise. Tipperary, over the last number of years, have been very good as well. It’s no surprise.
“It’s obviously interesting that the two losers of the provincial finals are in the final. That looks to me that any team could beat any other team on a given day. There’s six or seven teams now that could possibly win an All-Ireland. So, there’s very little between any team really. If there was two other teams, you wouldn’t be surprised if they were there either.”
The point about the four-week gap between provincial finals and the All Ireland semi-final was raised after each of the weekend’s games and Limerick manager John Kiely set the tone on Saturday evening by quickly dismissing the notion that it hindered his side’s performance or that the side hadn’t used the time wisely.
While he acknowledges that provincial finalists performing poorly in the penultimate round of the championship has become a trend in Munster, Canning also stated that he wouldn’t read too much into the theory around it, especially given that Galway broke the trend over the past couple of years.
“I heard it the other day on the radio, (they were) saying that because there’s no provincial winner in it (the All-Ireland final), is it a problem?
“We won the last two Leinsters and we were in the All-Ireland for two years. Very short memories, some people. I wouldn’t read much into that at all.
“It seems to be more Munster teams. I think Cork won two Munsters as well (2017, 2018) and they didn’t get to the final. But no, I think we’ve bucked that trend in the two previous years.”