A LONG-standing rivalry, 70 minutes of quality hurling, intense passion and baking hot temperatures. This is how the Munster hurling championship was meant to be.
Tipperary were understandably favourites but many expected Limerick to put up a serious fight and John Allen’s team did that and much more.
It was everything you would want from a senior inter-county team – heart and determination when under the cosh, score-taking ability when the chances presented themselves and, most crucially, the mental fortitude to rise to the challenge when the heat, literally, was on.
Yesterday in the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick led by three at half-time but Tipp were much quicker out of the blocks after it and John O’Dwyer’s goal on 50 minutes put them four clear.
In previous years Limerick would have crumbled after such a blow but they fought back to level the tie, only to then spurn two goal chances due to excellent saves from Brendan Cummins. From the resulting play, Limerick won a free which Declan Hannon put wide.
Again that could easily have led to a late collapse but instead the Shannonsiders stared defeat in the face before turning their backs and surging to the victory they deserved.
This result has blown the Munster race wide open. For the first time in seven years, the honours will go to neither Tipperary nor Waterford. And the remaining three counties will all feel they have every chance of claiming the provincial crown.
A throwback to days of old, perhaps, and there were shades of that in Leinster, too. Offaly didn’t quite have enough to overturn Kilkenny but they defied the pre-game predictions by making the Cats work extremely hard for a five-point win. Ollie Baker’s men will take tremendous heart from their four-goal display as they enter the qualifiers.
On Saturday evening an unfancied Wexford team managed to earn another day out against Dublin. It was the poorest of the three televised senior hurling matches at the weekend and whoever wins the replay will have some job on their hands against Kilkenny in the semi-finals. Then again, most of us said the same about Offaly before yesterday.
While the championship is only beginning for these counties, some of hurling’s less celebrated teams crowned their season in the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cup finals. One look at the wild celebrations of Down, Donegal and Warwickshire tells you just how much these titles mean to them.
Hurling took centre stage this weekend although there were a couple of football matches as well. A day after their hurlers drew with Dublin, Wexford went to Louth and came away with a one-point win, while in Ulster, Monaghan defeated Antrim in a dour match that will probably be best remembered for Pat Spillane describing it as “five-star rubbish” on The Sunday Game.
Eamon Dunphy wasn’t too far off saying the same about Ireland’s performance against Faroe Islands on Friday evening. It was a rather forgettable 3-0 win but Robbie Keane will remember the game for a long time after becoming his country’s most-capped player, while also extending his burgeoning goals tally to 59. He has his critics but that record speaks for itself. Also, to Keane’s credit, he greets every goal with boyish enthusiasm as if it was his first and last.
It’s fair to say he had a better weekend than England’s under 21 team, hammered by Norway and out of the European Championships with a group game still to play. It certainly wasn’t what Stuart Pearce had planned and he wasn’t afraid to give his players a public dressing down. They can only watch on enviously as Spain, Netherlands and Italy all booked their places in the semi-finals.
There was disappointment, too, for Limerick FC, who were comprehensively beaten by St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park on Saturday. The 3-0 defeat was Limerick’s first loss this season by more than one goal, although they were up against a team in tremendous form and now six points clear at the top of the league.
Simon Zebo got a belated call-up to the Lions squad, one that is now without the services of Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins. The Munster man joins up with the Lions after playing a part in Ireland’s unconvincing 15-12 win against USA.
There was more good news for Irish boxing with four medals secured at the European Championships in Belarus. John Joe Nevin and Jason Quigley return home with gold while Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes have to be content with silver. The excellent work of boxing chief Billy Walsh and his proteges continues to reap rewards.
The boxers, Ireland and the Limerick hurlers – maybe sometimes it’s not hard being green.