Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, we are told – well, there was a distinct lack of shakiness from Limerick’s hurlers in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday.
During the Allianz Hurling League, as one loss became two and then three and four, there were murmurings that the Shannonsiders’ appetite might not be at the levels it had been in securing three of the last four All-Irelands. In addition, a lack of newcomers properly looking to unsettle the status quo suggested that maybe their squad didn’t have the depth to cope with the absence of two or three marquee names.
On Sunday, attackers Séamus Flanagan and Peter Casey were ruled out with injury but in Mike Casey and Graeme Mulcahy, they didn’t lack for experience. Even spotting Cork a headstart of a goal and two points didn’t shake them in any way – why should it have, given they trailed Tipperary by 10 points at halftime the last time they were in Cork, last July’s Munster final?
Converting Kyle Hayes from centre-forward to marauding wing-back a couple of years ago was a triumph of vision and execution by management; releasing him back into the attack on Sunday – scoring one goal and assisting another – showed that the fearlessness to make brave calls still remains.
Cork will be left to ponder if a good league has actually brought them any closer to Limerick, but they have an extra week off to work on things before meeting Clare. For the champions, one good game banked is just that – and you can be sure that there will be no resting on laurels given that Waterford come to TUS Gaelic Grounds this Saturday night.
The newly minted league champions took times to get to grips with a Tipperary side that had been largely written off, but coming through such a game will give Liam Cahill’s side heart. Limerick boss John Kiely will certainly be expecting a strong tussle.
“It’s going to demand a lot of energy, that’s for sure,” he said.
“They’ve been hip-to-hip with us now for a couple of years. They’re a fine side. We’ve great respect for them as a group. The onus is on us within our group is to bring the greatest amount of energy we can next Saturday evening and to look for further improvement.
“We had 17 wides and that’s too high. We have to be more efficient in our shooting. There’s a piece to go after there this week.
“Hopefully the game will bring that on; our decision-making will improve and our shooting efficiency will improve. It has done in the past. Each year we’ve improved it as the championship has proceeded. But yes, we’re expecting a massive challenge next Saturday.”
In Leinster, Mr Cat was introduced to the Pigeon family as Galway’s good start against Wexford was reeled in and a draw resulted – given that Kilkenny and Dublin saw off game Westmeath and Laois efforts respectively, Henry Shefflin’s men will be experiencing a bit of pressure. They should have too much for the Lake County in the battle of the maroon counties on Saturday, but the wriggle room has been reduced.
One thing last weekend showed is that, for all the talk of the strangeness of championship in April, the large crowds will come out for the big games whenever they are played. Our bet would be that, in time, the attachment to August and September will be shown to have been emotional rather than rooted in any logic and the silent majority of club players around the country will benefit from the more structured fixture programme. CL
That aforementioned Cork-Limerick game is the only Munster championship match that either senior team from Leeside will play at their proper home venue, as Ed Sheeran’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh gig has a knock-on effect.
Cork County Board has come in for criticism for having its priorities skewed – though they will argue in defence that there is a large mortgage to be paid off – leading us to the stalemate situation where the county’s footballers are refusing to play Kerry anywhere other than Páirc Uí Rinn, where the Munster Council initially scheduled the fixture before attempting to switch it to Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.
Now, having already affected on the GAA season, Halifax’s finest is also the cause of a migration of fans for Munster’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse. Due to Sheeran’s concerts in Thomond Park on 5 and 6 May – the Thursday and Friday prior to last-eight weekend – the Munster faithful must head to the Aviva Stadium.
Curiously, the fact that Thomond was nearly-full but not actually full for the last-16 second leg against Exeter Chiefs last weekend, and the URC game against Leinster a fortnight previously, has been cited as a lack of interest among Munster fans whereas an Aviva that was barely more than half-full for the Leinster-Connacht game on Good Friday didn’t draw much comment.
There is certainly some merit to the idea that a cohort of fans became used to not attending games during the pandemic and that behaviour is not easily reversed. However, for Munster to have more than 20,000 present for two straight home games – and have a generally healthy average attendance during the season – is a positive rather than a negative to our mind in a season where ultimate success is likely to be elusive and the head coach is departing at the end of the season.
A quarter-final against the reigning European champions should draw a crowd to the Aviva. Reach a semi-final and, suddenly, a season that was in danger of petering out could be injected with new life.