A new hurling revolution?


There is no end of credit due to Offaly for their Under-20 success. Once they process the actual loss of an All-Ireland Final, Tipp can have few regrets about the game. One ‘left after them’ it most certainly was not. In the middle third of the pitch the ravenous hunger of the Faithful County made it seem at times that they had extra players on the pitch. In the end a six-point deficit just about captured the gap between the teams. If only Offaly could generate that level of support for their Senior team in the Joe McDonagh Cup, they could revolutionise the competition.

That said, you would assume that their ambitions will stretch beyond the second tier in the coming years. In previous generations they got serious traction from limited under-age success. The team of the early 1980s had only a Leinster Under-21 title (1978) to call upon, though the 1990s group had a remarkable three Minor All-Ireland titles in four years (1986/87/89) to work from in the following decade. A rejuvenated Offaly at Senior level would add great impetus to the Leinster championship, and it is to be hoped that this transpires.

Dublin have emerged as a surprise packet in Leinster this year though they have enjoyed a bit of luck in doing so. Wexford are left to rue the concession of two late goals against Dublin in a game where they were in control. Even the Model County’s unanticipated loss to Antrim in Belfast would have mattered not a jot had they shored up their defence in those dying moments against the Dubliners. They would now take the field on Saturday evening for an Old Firm game with their neighbours, but it was not to be. Still, Dublin might argue that many a team enjoyed the rub of the green somewhere along the way and they took the chance when it came.

A man who was ahead of his time in assuring me the previous March that Limerick would win the 2018 All-Ireland title reckons that Dublin will pull Kilkenny all over Croke Park at the weekend. Maybe they will, and indeed they had a chance to put the Black and Amber away in their round-robin game. But Dublin have come up short in the fixture so often that there is a natural scepticism. In 2020, Dublin dominated Kilkenny in the second-half in Croke Park by 2-15 to 0-7. They came from sixteen points down to level in the 71st minute and still lost by a point. If was a level of avoidance of beating Kilkenny that would have even Galway in awe. If Dublin put a proper 70 minute+ performance together they have a great chance but that remains to be seen.

The Munster Final is pitched perfectly in the ideal venue. Time was when a Limerick-Clare final was a rarity coming after a few surprise results. Their 1974 meeting was their first since 1955 in a final and was Clare’s second disaster in three seasons – they had also conceded six goals against Cork in 1972, their first final against the Rebel County since Clare’s successful 1932 Munster campaign. By the time the 1981 final arrived Clare had plenty of Munster Final experience having played four of them in the 1970s albeit unsuccessfully. That year of 1981 is regarded as one of the great ones that got away in Limerick as they exited the championship to Galway in a replayed semi-final. The Limerick narrative goes that Seán Foley’s three-month suspension for a challenge on PJ Molloy was way over the top, and that a free in to equalise the drawn game was more correctly a free out. Water under the bridge now but they may have a point.

Ironically it was a man from Clare, Sixmilebridge’s Niall McInerney, who played full-back for Galway in ’81 and did a solid job in curbing the threat of a man from Offaly, Shinrone’s Joe McKenna. The South Liberties’ full-forward who crossed the Shannon to go to school in Ennis and remained in that sphere of influence, ran riot in Munster. Three goals against Tipp to achieve an unlikely looking draw, and three against Clare in the Munster Final made him the talk of the hurling world in the summer of 1981. Limerick bowed out in August in a fog of injuries and missing players. David Punch travelled to Europe, Mossie Carroll travelled to south Tipperary, and Limerick ran out of bodies.

They have their problems with bodies at the moment too. On top of Peter Casey’s terrible bad luck, Seán Finn and Séamus Flanagan are big losses if they remain unavailable. Maybe like their unlucky predecessors it will be injuries that will bring them down in the end. They have coped well in the past, winning without Cian Lynch, Declan Hannon, and Seán Finn at various stages. Rather like Dublin, if Clare can produce a near-perfect performance they might well take the laurels, but that scenario is not maybe where the wise money would go.