2 August 2007 Edition
The Matt Treacy Column
Croke Park witnesses another chapter in epic hurling saga
Once when someone put it to him that hurling’s glory days were all in the past, Christy Ring responded:
“Let no one say the best hurlers belong to the past, they’re with us now and better yet to come.”
He would certainly have felt vindicated had he witnessed last weekend’s quarter finals. While the matches were not all of the same quality they were all compelling in their own way and proved that reports of the death of the hurling championship were somewhat premature.
Indeed last Sunday we witnessed one of the greatest games of hurling ever played in Croke Park. Or anywhere else for that. When history is written this game and the titantic rivalry between Cork and Waterford will be remembered in the same way as the classic encounters of the past such as Cork and Wexford in the late 1950s.
This epic saga – and one that doesn’t really have the same resonance as other Munster rivalries so it can be described as ‘modern’ – began with the Munster first round of 2002. It was Justin McCarthy’s first year with Waterford and Cork were beginning to build the team that would go on to win two All Irelands.
Waterford won by a point. Just seven players each from both sides started again on Sunday. At this stage, they have gotten to know one another as well as their own brothers and sisters. Donal Óg probably sees Dan in his dreams. Or nightmares.
All told the sides have met eight times in the championship since 2002 with Cork having won four, Waterford three and last Sunday’s tie. So the replay is Waterford’s chance to even things up. Not even their having won what many believe was the greatest Munster final of all in 2004 will be any consolation if they fail.
How much it means to them was encapsulated probably most of all in the final action when instead of tapping over the levelling point, Eoin McGrath went for the jugular. Donal Óg saved and Paul Flynn pounced like a cobra. Cusack had no option but to put his body on the line. And on the ball. Most times a referee might have given the goalkeeper the benefit of the doubt but it was a free and it was no less than Waterford deserved, thus ensuring the rest of us of another chance to see it all again. It is possibly foolish to try and call it but I will stick with Waterford.
There were echoes of 1996 when David Fitzhenry – the only survivor along with Rory McCarthy of the Wexford team to win the All Ireland that year – stepped up to blast a late free to the Tipperary net. Hopefully Wexford will now redeem themselves in their semi final against the Cats. Difficult to see them beating them but they will surely not go down as easily as in the Leinster final.
Kilkenny had a tough enough match themselves against Galway who stayed with them until the final minutes when Eddie Brennan was inexplicably left free behind the full back line to score the first of two killer goals. Of all the teams remaining, they are clearly the one with the ruthlessness to see off anyone.
I was impressed with Limerick even though a lot of Clare players played in a way that would have earned them the wrath of Ger if he was still about. Limerick are skillful and strong and can move the ball about stylishly. Whoever wins between Cork and Waterford will have to earn their place in the final.
It was mainly Cork people in the pub afterwards and to say that they were happy to have drawn Sligo in the football quarter final would be an understatement. Both Cork and Dublin were probably pleased enough to have avoided one another and most Dubs were glad not to be facing Meath, if only for the inconvenience of having to beat them again. They are neighbours’ children after all.
Tyrone and Meath is certainly the most interesting game and possibly the hardest to call. Tyrone have held up well so far this year but their resources are still thinly stretched and will be tested to the limit by a Meath team that has grown in confidence and cohesion over the past year. Since the beginning of the league they have played 14 matches, won 10, drawn two and lost only twice, against Dublin and what was, for them, an inconsequential last league match against Wexford.
By any standards that is impressive and winning, like Vince Lombardi said about confidence, is contagious. Meath to win and bring closer still the first all Leinster final with Dublin! Now that would be something.
Of course there are some other small matters to attend to first. Such as Derry in the quarter finals for the Dubs. Derry have progressed well since their dreadful Ulster semi final defeat by Monaghan. Truly one of the most appalling games of football I have ever seen. Of the last half an hour less than five minutes was taken up by actual play.
Derry’s defeat doesn’t look so bad in the light of Monaghan’s subsequent matches and their own defeats of Armagh, Mayo and Laois, three of the top eight or nine fancies to win the All Ireland at the start of the year. Much of it depends on which Derry turns up. If it is the dour Derry of the Monaghan match Dublin will eat them alive. If they rely instead on the type of attacking play they have shown they are capable of against Mayo and Laois then it could be close. Have to go for Dublin of course!
The other two matches are a bit more straightforward. Monaghan people will be relieved to know that I am abandoning them. Kerry to win that one.
Likewise, Cork’s greater experience and the suspicion that Sligo did not have much to beat in Connacht suggests that the rebels will prevail on Saturday.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.