John Horgan: Cork are gone but the hurling season continues to thrill

John Horgan: Cork are gone but the hurling season continues to thrill

Galway’s Joe Canning with Alan Flynn of Tipperary in last weekend's thrilling hurling quarter-final. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

IN the months that Covid was really rampant and the prospect of a GAA championship season seemed very remote, there were those who suggested that an early call should have been made to write it off and look forward to a brand new one in 2021.

After all, it was clearly obvious from a long way out that if the games went ahead they would do so in empty stadiums.

Was there any point at all in trying to continue?

Well, are we glad that the green light was eventually given and whilst the stadiums would remain empty, we were still going to have a championship.

And every major championship game could be viewed from the comfort of a living room. Not ideal for so many so used to travelling the highways and byways of the country in support of their team.

But half a loaf is always better than no bread at all and you could put up the argument that you see more on TV anyway than you do from the opposite terrace in a stadium.

So the starter’s gun was fired and what a championship it has been in both codes.

Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The hurling championship, whilst slow at the beginning, has really ignited in recent weeks and none more so than last weekend.

Two absolutely wonderful advertisements for the game, Galway and Tipperary and Clare and Waterford.

The stats from both games are well documented now, 11 goals and 92 points delivered by the four teams.

Some of the individual performances were sublime, Joe Canning, Aidan Harte and Cathal Mannion for Galway, Noel McGrath for Tipp in the first-half, Dessie Hutchinson, Tadhg de Burca, Stephen Bennett and Jamie Barron for Waterford and Alan Shanagher for Clare.

We were robbed of seeing another masterclass from Tony Kelly because of an early injury but his earlier performances will brighten up those dreary Winter nights ahead. The man was simply pure class and has to be handed an automatic All-Star.

Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The knockout stages of the hurling championship have really set the tongues wagging and that’s all that can be done when you cannot attend in the flesh.

Three of the more fancied teams at the outset are still standing tall, Limerick, Galway and always Kilkenny because they are Kilkenny.

The order of long ago has changed, there’s only one of the so-called big three of Cork, Tipp and Kilkenny still in the chase And of that three it’s sad to say that Cork are now very much in third place.

Waterford are back in Croke Park for the business end of the campaign and very worthy of their place.

What a fierce fillip for the game it would be if they could go all the way to the podium in the Hogan Stand.

The Déise have been a breath of fresh air in these dark Autumn and Winter months.

To the football championship, it’s been simply incredible thus far and what an absolute pity that there was nobody present for Tipp’s magnificent win over Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh or in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh for Cavan’s coming in from the cold against Donegal.

And is it not quite remarkable that the four teams that contested the All-Ireland football semi-finals of 100 years ago are back again a century later.

Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

It’s probably unlikely to happen given Dublin’s sheer excellence, but would it not be something else to see a Cavan, Tipperary or Mayo captain lift the Sam Maguire trophy a week before Christmas.

But in this strangest of all years, you’d rule nothing out.

The beauty of it all is, of course, that the best is probably yet to come, the emotion of the past few days might well be surpassed.

It’s a pity that Cork are not part of the various wagons heading for headquarters over the coming days and weeks.

But we must still be very grateful for what we have got, two championships of huge potential now coming down the home stretch.

There might have been a bit of shadow boxing early on but as Anthony Daly pointed out last Monday, every game is a heavyweight contest now.

And we must not forget the hurlers of Kerry and Antrim too, now vying for the right to join the elite next season.

Yes, Kerry will be in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day but the Sam Maguire will be well out of their reach. The Joe McDonagh Cup is their holy grail for now but that should not be scoffed at either.

It’s a competition that has proved to be a great success since it was introduced and for those counties outside the elite, it’s well worth winning.

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