This scintillating summer of hurling just keeps getting better

This scintillating summer of hurling just keeps getting better
Ian Galvin hit the net for Clare on Sunday. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

WALKING back from Semple Stadium to the town square in Thurles last Sunday there was dismay and anger in equal amounts amongst Tipperary supporters at another failed summer for their hurlers.

Before a ball was struck in anger in the revamped Munster championship, Tipperary were one of those strongly fancied teams, not alone to be at the head of affairs in the province but on the national stage as well.

That was based very much on them having a stronger squad than most of the others and that they had been closer to Galway than any of the rest when the business end of last season was reached.

Similar to last year, they had lost a league final but again not a whole pile of notice was taken of that.

All the eggs were going into the championship basket and that was the sole focus.

Well, look where they are now, their hurling summer terminated on June 10 after their loss to Clare.

Shane O'Donnell gets ahead of Sean O'Brien of Tipperary. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Shane O'Donnell gets ahead of Sean O'Brien of Tipperary. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

In past years their summer might not even have begun on that date.

This is nothing short of a disaster for Tipperary hurling and in the great homes, it’s going to be a long and painful time before they will see the old jersey again. Nobody could really have predicted the extent of their demise, four championship games without even one victory.

Two losses and two draws against opponents that most pundits had them ahead of in the pecking order make for a dismal return.

Their campaign has been a yo-yo affair, they have been plagued by inconsistency, not being able to put one decent 70 minutes together.

They were pretty awful against Limerick in their opener, played for 35 minutes against Cork and Waterford, affording both opponents a head start which saw them fall behind by nine and 11 points respectively They did manage to get themselves back into it in those games and secure a point on both occasions and we thought that their Summer might finally ignite their season against Clare last Sunday.

This time they shot out of the traps and were ahead by eight points at one stage in the first-half but as that half aged there were visible signs that this game was far from being a done deal.

By half-time, the margin had been reduced to four and the writing might well have been on the wall at that juncture.

But, to their credit, they were still well in the clear with 10 minutes remaining until it all fell apart thereafter when four consecutive games finally caught up with them.

One always had a feeling that a Clare goal would reinvent their cause and when it arrived with five minutes of normal time remaining that is exactly what transpired.

Bonner Maher is held up by Conor Cleary. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Bonner Maher is held up by Conor Cleary. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

This will be of absolutely no consolation to Tipp supporters but they were a big part of what has been a tremendous Munster championship to date, their great comeback against Cork and similarly against Waterford when the gods smiled on them with a goal that never was.

From day one this Munster campaign has just kept on giving and giving, the fare on offer at its zenith at times, with games being turned on their head on more than one occasion.

There were many sceptics around when this new format was announced, their belief was, why fix it if it was not broke.

Maybe they had a point but the last number of weeks have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the change has proved to be a real winner.

We have had some fantastic games of hurling in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Thurles and the Gaelic Grounds and it’s not done yet with Clare and Limerick in Cusack Park next Sunday and Cork and Waterford in Thurles.

FLYING HIGH: Limerick's Richie English with Tom Devine of Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
FLYING HIGH: Limerick's Richie English with Tom Devine of Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Unfortunately, for Waterford, there is nothing but pride to play for now and you will probably be able to count the number of Déise fans in the crowd.

But for Cork there is still a huge amount to play for in the game, their hurling summer is extended one way or the other but they will want to take the shortest possible route to Croke Park as possible and that ’s by winning on Sunday and subsequently in the final a few weeks later.

Clare and Limerick is a Munster semi-final in all but name and given the huge rivalry between the neighbouring counties, nobody will want to give an inch there.

While all this is going on, Tipp will be on the outside reflecting on a campaign that has made them the biggest of all losers.

There’s going to be a lot of soul-searching in the Premier County over the next number of months and there will be inevitable speculation on Michael Ryan’s future.

Things haven’t been as dramatic in Leinster with Galway sailing into the final as the only team in both provinces with full points.

Kilkenny and Wexford last Saturday night in Nowlan Park was the best half of hurling in the province since the outset of the campaign with Brian Cody again working the oracle with the home team.

TJ Reid drives at Matthew O'Hanlon and Diarmuid O'Keeffe. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
TJ Reid drives at Matthew O'Hanlon and Diarmuid O'Keeffe. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

His substitutions worked a treat, Richie Leahy, Liam Blanchfield, John Donnelly, Enda Morrissey and Joey Holden all making significant contributions alongside the outstanding TJ Reid.

Cody didn’t shirk the big calls when they had to be made and they just tore into it in that second-half.

Wexford remain in the equation but this was a big setback for a team that led by nine points early in the second-half.

Have they really progressed that much since last season? Judgement is reserved for the time being but the view has to be that they are not All-Ireland title contenders right now.

Kilkenny will be underdogs in the Leinster final, that will be something new but nobody will be writing them off.

That win last Saturday night might just be the key that ignites their season.

So, after another magnificent weekend of hurling, the positives outweigh any negatives by a country mile.

And we are still in the first fortnight of June.

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