Remember when hurling was finished? It must have been a good six weeks ago, when the opening salvos of the Allianz Hurling League brought all sorts of doom and gloom.
Thankfully, the defibrillator that is the championship has done its work, on the east coast, at least. Dublin’s four-point Leinster semi-final win over Galway had the dual effect of jolting the championship to life and setting a shark loose in the All-Ireland qualifiers fishtank, while Kilkenny v Wexford was a game for the ages, with the right amounts of drama, intrigue and controversy. The only thing missing was a closer finish as Kilkenny eventually pulled clear in extra time to win by eight points.
The Cats will be favourites to win what would be a 17th provincial title during the Brian Cody era but it would be bravery or foolishness to back against Dublin after Mattie Kenny brought about the downfall of his native county, who had brought such verve to the league.
The yin of Leinster was balanced out by the yang of Munster, however, where it could be said that the Limerick-Cork and Tipperary-Clare clashes both owed much influence to the awarding of a penalty and a sin-binning.
Cork led the All-Ireland champions by two points when Conor Cahalane drove towards goal and was fouled by Peter Casey, with referee Paud O’Dwyer signalling a penalty and reducing the Treatymen to 14 for a 10-minute period.
Had Cork captain Patrick Horgan netted, a five-point lead and a man advantage could have seen them streak clear but, as in the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final, Nickie Quaid produced a top save when his county needed him to. Cian Lynch brought Limerick level and, after Casey’s return, a pair of goals before half-time, from Darragh O’Donovan and Kyle Hayes, had them six points clear, a lead that wasn’t going to be ceded.
On Sunday, Clare had done well to go in leading against Tipperary at half-time and moved two points clear after a Tony Kelly free when Tipperary’s Jake Morris was fouled by Aidan McCarthy close to the sideline but, crucially, just inside the 21m line.
Being honest, it was a clumsy challenge and probably worthy of a yellow card but it was the kind of foul that nobody had in mind when the rules were amended at the beginning of this year, leading to a penalty for an indiscretion inside the 20 or the D.
Tipp did what Cork couldn’t as Jason Forde scored the penalty and they proceeded to outscore Clare by 1-4 to 0-2 for the remainder of the period where they had an extra man. It means that Clare and Cork join Wexford, Galway, Waterford and Laois or Antrim – who play this weekend – in Monday morning’s qualifier draw.
The margin for error for those counties has dissipated and the real thing is about to get going. Here’s to some titanic tussles.
Cluxton indecision an unneeded distraction for the Dubs
My presence in this corner of the magazine is of course at the pleasure of Amii and if she were to call time and go with somebody new, I would be disappointed but I would get on with it.
By the same token, if circumstances were to force me to move on, I would hope that would be understood too, but in either scenario, there would be clarity. I certainly wouldn’t ever hope that I would step away for a while and expect to come straight back in when I wanted, even if a replacement had been installed in the interim.
Perhaps if I had been doing it for 20 years and had revolutionised column-writing and proven myself to be the best, I might adopt such a stance, but even so, there is a very unusual feel to Stephen Cluxton’s ‘has he or hasn’t he?’ status with the Dublin senior football squad.
The seven-time All-Ireland-winning captain wasn’t involved with the Dubs during the Allianz Football League and was absent from the matchday panel for last Sunday’s championship opener against Wexford too, though he has featured for his club side, Parnells.
When questioned by the media after the eight-point win, Dublin manager Dessie Farrell said that Cluxton wasn’t with the panel at the moment, but nor had he officially retired and the door remains open for him.
It’s well-known that Cluxton shuns the limelight and, rationally, it seems likely that he has departed, leaving Evan Comerford and Michael Shiel to battle it out for the navy number 1 jersey. But, if that is the case, why not announce it? A one-line statement would suffice and it’s not as if he’d have to do all of those interviews he didn’t bother with during his career.
Incidentally, Comerford shares his name with the Tipperary goalkeeper and there was a beautifully Irish moment of confusion in February of last year.
Footage of a save by the Dublin Evan Comerford circulated on social media and the Tipperary player’s mother Anna replied on Facebook with maternal pride: “Well done Evan, some save.” Sympathy was in short supply from her son: “Thanks Ma. Pity you have the wrong Evan though #hasntaclue #mothersoffacebook.”
The Cluxton episode, or non-episode, depending on your point of view, somewhat overshadowed the game itself at Chadwicks Wexford Park, where a game home side battled hard and made a mockery of the 1/500 pre-game odds available on Dublin. It’s a shame that the Model County don’t have the chance to build some momentum in the All-Ireland qualifiers but Meath, Dublin’s Leinster semi-final opponents, might take some heart from the way the game went and feel that they can rattle a Cluxton-less Dublin. CL