In this year’s Munster senior hurling championship, the five games so far between Clare, Cork, Limerick and Tipperary have had an aggregate winning margin of eight points.
Three quarters of that tally came as Tipperary enjoyed an opening-day victory against Clare, but the Banner have roared back and have a final place secured, meaning they can watch on this weekend as the other counties finish their round-robin schedule.
The other four games involving the counties that can progress to the All-Ireland series – unfortunately for Waterford, they are only playing for pride against Tipperary – have seen two draws and two one-point wins.
It will be one of either Cork, Limerick or Tipp (albeit highly unlikely in the case of the latter) who will be eliminated from the championship by suppertime on Sunday.
Contrast that with the Leinster championship, where the three qualifying spots have already been secured by Dublin, Galway and Kilkenny – all that is to be decided on Sunday is which pairing makes up the final.
There is some jeopardy in the eastern province, but it is with regard to relegation to the Joe McDonagh Cup.
After Westmeath’s incredible comeback to beat Wexford, there is now a possibility that the Model County will end up dropping down to the second tier if they lose to Kilkenny and Antrim beat Westmeath.
It’s something that would have seemed unthinkable back in 2019, when they won Leinster and led Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, but it shows how quickly things can change in sport.
Some pundits feel that the provincial split is unfair on Munster – for instance, on RTÉ Radio last Sunday, John Mullane said that he felt that Waterford would be one of the three qualifiers if they were playing in Leinster – but it’s hard to see what would be a good solution for all.
If you had 12 counties drawn into two groups of six, it might provide an equitable outcome, but the traditionalists who cherish the Munster championship would surely be up in arms.
The fact that a couple of big-name counties are left kicking their heels by the end of May is what has drawn the crowds to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, FBD Semple Stadium, TUS Gaelic Grounds and Cusack Park over the last few weeks.
There is certainly an argument that the top sides should be in the championship for longer, but there would be a side-effect in that more early-season games would represent a phony war. When Kilkenny played Galway at UPMC Nowlan Park at the end of April in what was an entertaining draw, there were less than 12,000 souls present.
One would have to imagine that many other potential match-goers drew the conclusion that the counties were likely to be meeting again in the Leinster final, so the dress-rehearsal wasn’t overly important.
We want to keep teams involved, but we also want every game to matter and something has to give.
Offaly v Carlow
The final of the aforementioned Joe McDonagh Cup takes place on Saturday in Croke Park as Offaly meet Carlow, and that will certainly matter. By reaching the decider, both counties have earned a pass to the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals, where they will face the sides coming third in each of the provinces, but only one of them will be part of the Leinster championship in 2024.
Offaly are riding high at the moment, having beaten Kildare to win the Allianz Hurling League Division 2 title as well as their U20s making it to the All-Ireland final against Cork, and they will go in as favourites.
While they lost their last round-robin game against Carlow, the Faithful County had already guaranteed themselves a place in the final, whereas their opponents had to win to edge out Laois.
There are those who feel that hurling isn’t receiving enough exposure but, with much at stake across Saturday and Sunday, this is a weekend to savour. CL
As mentioned above, Kildare reached the final of Division 2 of the hurling league, losing to Offaly, and their tale is a prime example of the power of momentum in sport.
Having come so close to promotion to the top flight, the Lilywhites lost all five of their Joe McDonagh Cup games, and so will be in the third-tier Christy Ring Cup for 2024.
Perhaps the importance of maintaining a rhythm is something that Leinster will focus on after the heartbreaking Heineken Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle at Aviva Stadium last Saturday.
A week previously, Leo Cullen’s side had been on the brink of a double, but defeat to Munster in the United Rugby Championship semi-final was followed by La Rochelle’s incredible comeback to retain their European title.
Would Leinster have been better off going with a stronger team against Munster, prioritising the notion that winning is a habit over the need to rest players for the European final?
We’ll never know, but certainly there will need to be an examination as to how they let victory slip.
Across eight Champions Cup games, Leinster trailed for a total of 22 minutes but, unfortunately for them, some of those were at the end of the biggest game of all. It’s tough to take, but the only way to respond is to go again.
This week, it’s Munster’s turn as they take on the Stormers in South Africa. They’ll be up against it, but that is usually one of the first criteria for one of their fairytale victories.
Leinster’s players will hopefully have picked themselves up by the time the Rugby World Cup comes around, and the tournament will also be a big event for another Irish person.
After helping Ireland to win a grand slam in the Women’s Six Nations in 2013, Joy Neville took up refereeing and has been very successful in that endeavour.
When the Limerick native and her wife Simona had a son, Alfie, two years ago, working as a television match official (TMO) was a good way to stay involved at a time when physical exertion had to be reduced.
Now, she has been rewarded with a spot as one of the seven-strong TMO team for France 2023, and it was an appointment wholly on merit, based on her performances rather than being a token female selection.
Here’s hoping that her example is one that can lead to more women taking such a path in the future.