Last week, there was a bit of a debate around the levels of criticism received by inter-county management and players.
Comments from outgoing Cork selectors Pat Mulcahy and Diarmuid O’Sullivan focused on what they felt were unfair attacks from pundits and analysts within the county.
While not seeking a free ride, they felt there should be some bit of solidarity, given that the critics had themselves patrolled the sidelines.
It’s often the way, that those closest will be those who are harshest – though of course they may feel that what they are saying is unvarnished truth rather than something that crosses the line, while those on the receiving end will always feel the sting more acutely.
Mick O’Dwyer used to always say that his Kerry team that won eight All-Irelands in 12 years had 31 and a half counties against it, while Mickey Harte’s three Sam Maguire wins and six Ulster titles with Tyrone were of little insulation when noises began to grow about his suitability in the mid-2010s.
Harte eventually walked away at the end of 2020 and decided to throw his lot in with Louth, while his hurling equivalent continues to clock up the years with his native county.
Brian Cody was appointed as Kilkenny manager in late 1998 and the time since has seen the Cats claim 11 All-Ireland titles – the next best in that period are Cork, Limerick and Tipperary, with three each.
However, not even Cody is immune from the talk – the fact that the last time Liam MacCarthy wintered on Noreside was 2015 means that there has been annual chatter as people wonder if the time is right to depart, but the man himself has no doubts. Or, if he does, he doesn’t broadcast them, which is fair enough, too.
Even as recently as late May, when Kilkenny lost to Galway and then Wexford in the Leinster SHC round-robin, there would have been concerns, especially as the Munster championship looked a lot stronger.
Since then, victory in the Leinster final rematch against Galway and a dismantling of a Clare team that had been hailed means that the Cats are back in the familiar setting of the All-Ireland final – albeit a month and a half earlier than what they would have been used to.
Since Cody’s appointment, Kilkenny have never gone more than two consecutive years without reaching the decider, even if this year and their last appearance in 2019 have been their only presence for the showpiece occasion since losing to Tipperary in 2016.
It was also Tipp that beat them three years ago, but it’s worth noting that just seven of the Kilkenny starters that day also began the semi-final win over Clare a fortnight ago.
That’s a huge level of turnover in the interim, especially when you consider that Kilkenny have won all three of the Leinster titles since then – were any other county to achieve that, it would be something praised to the hilt, but it’s strictly humdrum by their high standards.
Nowadays, almost any big occasion has to have a narrative framed around it, but for Sunday’s match it happens automatically – Kilkenny, the last team to win three in a row, trying to stop Limerick from achieving the same.
Add in the fact that the Cats are the only side to beat the Shannonsiders in a knockout game since 2017 and it becomes even more finely poised.
John Kiely isn’t a latter-day replica of Cody but he brings a lot of the same strong attributes, and his role in making Limerick the powerhouse that they are is nothing short of remarkable.
Kiely would be the first to praise the others involved too, not least coach Paul Kinnerick and psychologist Caroline Currid, and it has certainly been a collective effort that has got them to the top of the tree.
This year, they have been asked big questions by Clare in the Munster final and Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, but they are still standing. Is that a sign that, no matter what is thrown at them, they will prevail or is it a case that that those wins have taken so much out of them that another tough battle might see them dethroned?
We can only wait and see, but as was often the case when Kilkenny were kings, we have to give the champions the benefit of any doubt.
Humble pie can taste nice sometimes – last week, we said that a series victory for Ireland in New Zealand was very unlikely after they had shipped a beating in the opening Test, but last Saturday was a near-complete role-reversal.
Ireland were helped by the home side’s absolute recklessness in Dunedin, though it looked for a while like hometown refereeing would conspire against Andy Farrell’s side.
A half-time lead of 10-7 looked shaky given that Ireland had played all of the rugby, but Andrew Porter’s second try early in the second half settled nerves and there was a strong sense of composure as the end neared.
The challenge now is to repeat that against an All Blacks team that will be hurting after a first home defeat to Ireland and a first-ever loss at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
As with GAA teams mentioned in the main section, the local New Zealand media have been the most cutting and Ireland will have to be ready for a backlash.
It promises to be another eventful Saturday morning.
Later on Saturday, the two Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship quarter-finals take place at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, with Limerick taking on Waterford at 3.15pm while Dublin do battle with Kilkenny at 5.30pm.
Meanwhile, the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies’ SFC is at the semi-final stage. Those games are also taking place on Saturday with Croke Park as the venue – Kerry are set to face Mayo at 2pm, while Donegal take on champions Meath at 4pm.
On the surface, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with these facts, as the games are run by two totally separate organisations and there is no crossover of counties or dual-player issues.
However, in terms of promotion or laying a pathway for the eventual merging of the GAA, LGFA and Camogie Association, it’s not a good look.
The armchair fan will be able to channel-hop and catch a lot of the action but anybody hoping to attend both sets of games will be disappointed.