Winter hurling continues to thrill as Galway gear up for Limerick rematch

Winter hurling continues to thrill as Galway gear up for Limerick rematch

Shane Cooney of Galway in action against Jason Forde of Tipperary in the cracking hurling quarter-final at Gaelic Grounds. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

AND just like that, it’s down to the last four in the race for hurling’s biggest prize.

And few can argue that the four best teams are still standing. Winter hurling may not be everybody’s cup of tea but over the past couple of weeks, the fare on offer has been compelling.

Plenty of regrets remain on Leeside of course, on the outside looking in again.

The two quarter-finals last Saturday were a fine advertisement for hurling, with the Galway-Tipperary encounter pulsating. The portents pointed to a Tipperary victory, on the basis the characteristics that won them the All-Ireland last season were in evidence against Cork. On the other hand, Galway had given up the advantage against Kilkenny in the Leinster final.

The momentum certainly seemed to be with Tipperary, especially when they took a six-point lead early in the second half. Galway teams in the past had let their heads drop when adversity came calling.

Not this time, however. They fought gallantly to secure the victory.

And in doing so they ended Tipperary’s hopes of retaining Liam MacCarthy. Incredibly, that famine now stretches back to 1965 since they put back-to-back titles together.

A number of their current panel will not get another opportunity of erasing that statistic.

It’s never an easy task of course, and the only county in modern times that made a habit of it was Kilkenny. Cork did it in 2004 and 2005 but have not climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand since.

A key moment was the dismissal of Tipp’s Cathal Barrett for a second bookable offence. It was a major moment in the game and it certainly swung the pendulum in Galway’s favour.

It was a game of goals as was the case too in Waterford’s terrific win over Clare.

In total, we got 11 green flags between the two games and that glut of goals was a welcome change.

Jack Fagan hits the net. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Jack Fagan hits the net. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

When the need was at its greatest in the Gaelic Grounds it was Galway who had the more players that stood up to be counted. Aidan Harte’s goal was a huge score and Cathal Mannion tormented the Tipp defence with a haul of 1-3.

And then there were the masterful strokes from the placed ball by Joe Canning. He delivered 14 points, 12 of them from frees, some of them exquisite scores from difficult angles.

He hit one beauty too from a sideline ball and his contribution, not for the first time and most certainly not the last was immense.

Now it’s Galway and Limerick next weekend in one of the semi-finals, the two sides who made very early statements, Limerick in blowing away Clare and Tipperary and Galway in trouncing Wexford.

Galway had that significant blip against Kilkenny and there was a perception that they would not be able to regroup in a week for the formidable task against Tipperary.

But they are where they want to be now, where others would love to be and the potential that this clash with Limerick contains is simply awesome.

Who will ever forget their final meeting of 2018 and the late drama that was contained in it? Canning standing over a free from over 100 yards out to try and draw the match after Limerick had lost a decent lead.

His effort fell short and Limerick had won back the MacCarthy Cup after 45 years.

Joe Canning. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Joe Canning. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Now they collide again with the stakes equally as high and to add a bit more flavour to the collision, you have a former Limerick player in Shane O’Neill in charge of Galway.

No matter what transpires in the other semi-final between Kilkenny and Waterford, the likelihood is that the winners of the Galway, Limerick games will enter the final as favourites.

Of course, there is a very good chance of the final being contested by two sides who have already faced each other in the provincial finals, Galway against Kilkenny and Limerick against Waterford. 

Before that All-Ireland final on December 13, there will be a curtain-raiser at headquarters with Kerry taking on Antrim in the final of the Joe McDonagh Cup.

This is a game where the sides will be trying to kill two birds with one stone, take home the trophy and participating next season in the Leinster championship That’s a decent pair of prizes for the Kingdom hurlers and the men from the Glens of Antrim.

For those two counties, it will be their chance to shine.

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