WHAT great weather we’ve had this week and while it’s always fantastic, it’s especially so leading into the provincial finals.
This is what it was like years ago for the wonderful occasion that was always the Munster final day.
As a young lad growing up, excitement was at its highest, going off to the Munster final with the brothers and sometimes the father, and looking forward to seeing all the great players. Listening to the buskers along the way and the beautiful music they made, some fellas sober and some drunk, but the craic was always ninety.
The bottle of lemonade and the small tub of ice cream from the ice cream sellers at the ground, and the paper hats in the colours of the counties involved. If Tipp were playing you’d guaranteed there would be plenty sandwiches, and if it was Cork, there was no shortage of crubeens.
But for us young lads the greatest thrill of all was looking at the wonderful players and the skills on show and the hard physical battles... the dust rising in the square, and plenty of manly exchanges, not to mention the odd row.
Everything was unique about the occasion, and the highlight of the sporting year for many. They came from all over Ireland for it. I wonder has it still got the same attraction for everyone now?
I think it is still a wonderful occasion even though I was in Limerick and Tipperary this week and did not see or hear much about what is happening on Sunday next.
But believe me come Sunday with over 40,000 in the Gaelic Grounds it will be hell for leather in what should be a massive battle, like the great battles between these two in the 70s. Great players from that era for both counties, people like Babs Keating, Mick Roche, Jimmy Doyle from Tipperary, and Eamon Creegan, Pat Hartigan and Joe McKenna of Limerick, to name but a few from those two talented teams, and the wonderful games they produced.
Can we see more of this on Sunday with today’s generation of players? I believe we can.
Tipperary who are the form team so far, coming into the lions’ den, to play the All-Ireland champions. The three Mahers in the half-back line should be the launching pad trying to shut out the Limerick half-forward line of Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey. That should be a fascinating battle and whoever comes out on top here will have a big bearing on the result.
Further up the field, and equally as crucial will be the battle between the Limerick full-back line of Seán Finn, Mike Casey and Richie English, against a lethal full forward line of John McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Jason Forde. This task will not be easy for the Limerick boys against these three deadly finishers. Any sniff of a half chance, or even sometimes a quarter chance, they will raise a flag.
Outside them, another interesting showdown should be between Declan Hannon, the Limerick captain, and the very skillful Bubbles O’Dwyer, a player who roams a lot and who can score from any side and from any angle, when in form, and he is in form this year. Declan Hannon cannot afford to be loose here or maybe Limerick might go with that dreadful sweeper system to protect their full-back line.
I hope not. That system to me is negative and not attractive to watch.
I think at the other side, Limerick’s inside forward line of Graeme Mulcahy and Aaron Gillane are having a great year and crucial to Limerick. Important for Tipperary is who is going to pick these two up, as Limerick always seem well able to create space for them, especially Gillane, who can be lethal with proper ball. Like Jason Forde at the other end of the field, he is also lethal from frees.
Mulcahy is well able to take his scores and his work-rate is outstanding, bringing other forwards into play with his vision.
Crucial for Tipperary is that Cathal Barrett is passed fit to play. He will be a huge loss if not, because in my opinion he is the best defender Tipp have, and he would be well capable of picking up either Mulcahy or Gillane to do a man-marking.
I believe this game will be decided in the middle of the field. Cian Lynch, who creates a lot for Limerick with his unselfish running and huge work-rate, plus his score-taking ability and brilliant vision, is crucial.
This Sunday he is meeting his biggest test because Noel McGrath is Tipp’s best player so far this year. He has been outstanding in all games, his hurling skill and brilliant brain picking out his forwards at every opportunity.
He also helps his defence and is the perfect link. Add in his long-range shooting and maybe getting a goal as well, he has been reinvented again by Tipp positioning him in the middle.
He is definitely a class act and in my opinion already in the running for Hurler of the Year. Limerick will need to watch him carefully on Sunday, and like Lynch he could be a match-winner.
Limerick have the physicality and the power, but I think Tipperary have the more skillful players. It’s skill versus brawn in a way but they both are capable of mixing it.
I’m going for the skillful Tipperary to win, but there won’t be a lot in it.
The Leinster final should be a cracker as well between old rivals Kilkenny and Wexford, two teams that used to be in the Leinster final in my youth, so it’s back to that again. Pity the two games are on the same day.
Space doesn’t allow me to elaborate too much but Wexford have a chance and would have a better chance if this was in Wexford Park but Croke Park is different and the cats love it and they love winning there too.
I think after a great contest Kilkenny should come through.
All I say to the finalists from both provinces, bring hurling alive this weekend and bring that uniqueness back into it again.