THAT special time of year is nearly here again, the start of the Munster Hurling Championship.
Well, it used to be very special one time anyway! I read a recent interview by John Horgan, of this parish, with that sturdy corner-back, Tony Maher, of St Finbarr’s and Cork, and the one thing he really spoke about was the battles on the hurling field.
Especially between Tipperary and Cork, where you had to be in your full health to survive, where it was dog eat dog, which made the Battle of Clontarf look like a game of cards. Massive crowds attended these games and enjoyed every minute of the action, no matter where they were from. Of course, Tipp and Cork were winning All-Irelands fairly regularly then.
The question I ask here is: ‘Is Munster hurling gone on the soft side?’
Games in the latter years seem to be more like a tea party. I believe this new format should and could bring a real bite back into the championship, with only the top three teams guaranteed to remain in the All-Ireland series.
I believe it was time for change as the old format had gone stale. The only negative I see about it, and to me this is a very big one, is having games on at the same time on the same day. Why not play Tipp- Limerick on Saturday evening and Cork-Clare on Sunday for example?
That would make a lot more sense and maybe add a few thousand to both gates.
I also think that there should be a lot more marketing done to promote the championship. After all, other sports that are not half as entertaining can do it, and do so on a regular basis. Time for the GAA to do the same and even surpass them.
Now let’s go to the most important thing, the upcoming matches.
One thing I’ve noticed this year about Cork is the huge negativity from the supporters. I know they are very demanding because of past successes but I think it is a bit unfair on this team, who you would have to say were a bit unlucky in the All-Ireland semi-final last year against Waterford, having a man sent off at a vital time.
There’s no need for all the pessimism. Is it down their league form? Or the change of management?
If it is the latter, that is very unfair on John Meyler and his backroom team, because remember other managers have been in the hot seat since 2005 and haven’t won either. It’s a tough job being an inter-county manager without having all that negativity from your own supporters.
Everyone can pick the team on Monday morning after the game, but John Meyler has to pick it before the game. John is a good hurling man and will do what’s right for Cork. I’ve always said games are won and lost by players.
And talking of players... I believe that this Cork team need to stand up, this year even more so than last year, and show the type of leadership and the real battling qualities that Cork teams always produced. It is now time for that type of leadership, and this year especially with games coming thick and fast, focus has to be a priority.
A big panel of players is very important this year with the minefield that its going to be. I’m sure Tipperary will be thinking that they were so near last year, pipped by Galway.
I believe they are the favourites at the moment, but I think this Tipp team lack something.
They seem to have a problem with their defence, doing a lot of chopping and changing.
I’d say at this point in time they don’t even know their starting 15. Well, they don’t know their best defense yet anyway!
And whatever about not having a settled forward line, I definitely think you need to have your defense and goalkeeper settled - because that’s the solid foundation you start from.
Still, Tipp have a lot of skillful players with great experience, but Michael Ryan needs to sort out the backs.
The team that seems to be up and coming now is Limerick, having won two U21 All-Irelands in last three years. It’s obvious they have a lot of talent coming through and working very hard with it, they got promoted from Division 1B. I think going forward that’s a good thing but I still think they lack a bit of experience going into this championship.
The future looks bright for Limerick, but I think it will take a few years - but they won’t be easy opposition for anybody.
Another strong contender in Munster this year will be Waterford. They had a great run last year to the All-Ireland final and had absolutely no interest in the league this year. I definitely would not agree with their approach, putting all your eggs in the one basket can backfire sometimes.
This is why I think Waterford will be under tremendous pressure. Maybe it will work for Derek McGrath.
There’s no doubting their talent and the wonderful players they have, but I think they need to express themselves more and not playing in a rigid structure all the time.
And now to Clare, the county with the worst record in Munster for the last 20 years, as they haven’t won it since 1998.
It’s a very poor return for a county that has produced a lot of good underage teams. They’ve gone overboard with the ‘tactical’ side of things too, restricting their players too much with plans and stats.
There is only one stat that matters and only one game plan that matters: winning. Clare have failed miserably for a number of years to manage that apart from the All-Ireland in 2013.
I believe they should give it a real lash and avoid all the nonsense, then they will have a chance.
Anyway I will be previewing these games nearer the dates. So let the battles commence.
Make every game a battlefield and let the warriors decide it.