WHILE the introduction of the round-robin format for the Munster Hurling Championship means that trips to Thurles are decreased for Cork fans, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Obviously, the home of hurling (and football, let’s not forget) remains the Mecca for supporters of the Rebels, but the fact that the frequency of the visits there has dropped will hopefully make those trips all the more special.
Instead, they will get to sample the other venues in the province on a more regular basis – Limerick and Ennis this year, with the novelty of a game in Walsh Park in 2020 (along with a Tipp-Cork clash at Semple Stadium).
So it was that Sunday meant a journey to the newly renamed LIT Gaelic Grounds, Cork’s first since the 2013 Munster final.
Leaving in good time to be there for the minor game, traffic was manageable but there were hold-ups in the usual places. A slight inconvenience for motorists, perhaps, but good for Buttevant Camogie Club, who showed good initiative in holding a bucket collection to attract the goodwill of those at a near-standstill as they made their way through the town.
The Limerick tunnel has certainly been a welcome addition to the infrastructure in the mid-west (isn’t it funny how Wicklow or Carlow don’t seek to use the ‘mid-east’ soubriquet?), especially as it’s on the right side for access to the Gaelic Grounds and Thomond Park, whose floodlights and distinctive curved stands you espy first.
The Clonmacken Roundabout was the point of no entry for motoriststs, though one woman did successfully appeal to the traffic garda on duty to be allowed past as she was dropping her children to the new Pikachu film in the cinema nearby. Na Piarsaigh GAA Club, also situated in the vicinity, were advertising free parking, though their promise of the ground being a five-minute walk was seemingly targeted at Robert Heffernan and nobody whose speed was set at ‘stroll’.
Inside the ground, there have been some new cosmetic additions, including a very nice history wall, highlighting the milestones in Limerick GAA, culminating in last August’s All-Ireland victory. It goes without saying that a Cork equivalent, paying tribute to the many stars who have donned the red and white, would be a welcome addition to the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Funnily enough, the official attendance recorded on Sunday was 31,274, which was exactly 1,000 more than had seen Cork’s defeat at the Páirc the previous week.
We said on Friday that, if there was omen in which to take solace, it was that Cork travelled to take on the reigning All-Ireland champions in 2017 with little hope given to them and they managed to carve out a victory. We can’t claim to have had an insight that the team would produce a performance like they did, but it certainly silenced a few doubters.
The changes to the team may have been questioned when the starting 15 was announced on Friday night, but the management were proven right with all of the players they included – Bill Cooper back to midfield was easy after crying off before the Tipp game, but Mark Ellis’s first game of 2019, Robert Downey’s debut and Aidan Walsh in attack were all big calls.
It was Walsh’s first championship outing since the qualifier loss to Wexford in 2016 and he had featured at right half-back that day. Now, he is being employed in attack, as a selfless water-carrier to help the scorers and it’s a role he’s more than happy to fill.
“I know I don’t have the skill of the Hoggies or the Lehanes or the Cadogans, but I know when they do get the ball they’ll do the damage,” he said. “I’m happy enough to work hard, run as much as I can, run myself into the ground and make space for the boys, get the ball and give it to the shooters.
Obviously, it’s just one win for Cork, but in the circumstances, it was a huge one. Another victory against Waterford — who could be eliminated — on June 8 and the chances of qualification greatly increase. It makes for interesting viewing.