I HEARD the cuckoo the other day announcing its arrival to these shores, and immediately thought of the great Christy Ring: ‘Don’t judge the hurler until the cuckoo sings’.
How right he was!
Championship is different. It brings out the best in everybody, supporters, management and above all, the players. That bit of intense rivalry surfaces, players at their peak, all the hard winter nights over, and all the gut-bursting training behind them. All for the cause of county and its people and long may that continue.
Amateur sport is really wonderful, and the GAA can be very proud of these fine, young men that represent them so well, both on and off the field, with no financial gain. But how long more can players accept that, especially when all around them are getting well-rewarded, a lot of the backroom people and gurus?
The Munster championship is now what I call the Group of Death. Five fairly even teams, not a lot between any of them, fighting for the three places, including All-Ireland champions Limerick, who were lucky to come out of Munster last year!
Still, since that All-Ireland, they are the one team to carry their form on and have gone on to win a very non-competitive league. Their panel is getting stronger. John Kiely and his management have players battling to make the match-day squad of 26.
They are not afraid to use their physicality, a team always on the edge, and they don’t mind going over it if they have to. A great way to have your team.
A bit of a disadvantage to them, even though the game is on in the Gaelic Grounds, is that their first challenge of the championship is against Cork who will already have a game under their belt.
First up for Cork is Tipp, a huge game, but playing in the Páirc is a big advantage.
I can’t see too many changes to the Cork team, especially up front, but there are problems at the back again, even if most other counties are in the same situation.
First and foremost, they must defend as a unit properly, and instead of trying to score themselves, which a lot of them do, they should be concentrating more on stopping the opposition. In his third year with this group, John Meyler cannot accept bad defending.
I’m sure they have concentrated a lot in training to improve this year, no excuses anymore. It will be very interesting to see the personnel Cork will go with this year in defence.
And what of Tipperary? Liam Sheedy back as manager, and with him Eamon O’Shea back coaching, as well as Tommy Dunne. People would call that ‘the dream team of management’.
They have been there before, they have done it before, but the big question now is, can they do it again? Tipp were very disappointing last year not getting out of Munster and, generally, not playing well enough to get out.
They are still depending on the same group of players this year, some of them have been around a long time, and they still seem to be the main players and leaders. What was very evident last year was the lack of pace in some of these guys, which is crucial for a player now.
Tipp will always be very competitive, it’s in their DNA, so they are always very difficult to beat.
Their first game is a huge one for them in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and as we all know, the expectation is always high from their supporters. No pressure!
Waterford will be very happy that they have two home games this year, as they did not have any last year, which I think was very wrong.
Fair play to Padraig Fanning when Fair play to Paraic Fanning, though. As soon as he took over as manager this year, he insisted that Waterford play their games at home, and he made it known to the authorities that they wanted fair play the same as everyone else. And well done to him, he got his way.
If Waterford can show the same fight on the field as he has shown, they will have a chance.
Waterford have some very good players, and most of them are very young. They have a lot of experience gained in the last few years. Now they have to ki show leadership. They are not boy,, kick-on and prove they are good enough. Front up and kick-on as that is what Munster championship is about. You have got to be able to stand up and fight for everything.
Waterford need to do that and not opt out, as sometimes they do. They can’t afford that this year and they have no excuses either, Walsh Park will be a hard place to get a result for any visiting team.
Fanning has stood up, now time for his players to do the same.
Clare were unlucky last year against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, especially in the replay in Thurles. It was their best championship performance in a few years.
They also got lucky last year when they had a break in the Munster championship after two games. This year won’t be as kind to them and they’ll struggle if they pick up injuries.
I believe Clare have some very good players, but they all seem to be in the attack/forwards, and like other teams, the big problems seem to be in their defence.
They don’t seem to be learning from game to game in that department, and especially in the frees they are giving away.
Conceding 15 and 16 points per game from frees, which Clare have done during the league, is absolutely ridiculous from players at this level.
We hear a lot about the great coaches in the game, and God knows there is a coach for everything now, but the coaching of the art of defending leaves a lot to be desired.
Jerry O’Connor and Donal Maloney need to get this part of the game right. They need to lay down the law to these guys and stop the fouling if Clare are to make progress this year.
I just heard the cuckoo again... and thanks be to God for the Munster championship, and equally thanks to the players who provide the entertainment.
Let’s hope for Munster championship sake, that it’s more of the same from last year.