John Horgan on the history of upsets in the Munster hurling championship

Cork face Limerick this weekend as underdogs at Semple Stadium
John Horgan on the history of upsets in the Munster hurling championship

Waterford captain Frankie Walsh lifting the Liam McCarthy cup after beating Kilkenny in a replay on October 4th, 1959 REF 876K

ONE of the most remarkable games of hurling of all time took place over 60 years ago when Waterford defeated the reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the Munster final on a scoreline of 9-3 to 3-4.

The year was 1959 and at half-time Waterford led by a staggering 8-2 to 0-0 after they had played with the aid of a very strong wind.

Tipperary managed to register 3-4 in the second half as against 1-1 for Waterford but it hardly mattered, one of the great chapters in the history of the Munster SHC had been written.

But that is the story of the Munster championship, games that are never erased from the memory bank, many of them breakthrough days after years in the wilderness.

You had Limerick coming in from the cold in 1973 to claim their first provincial title since 1955.

Clare broke through in 1995 to win their first title in 63 years while it was a similar story in 2002 when Waterford, under Justin McCarthy, ended a 39-year famine by defeating Tipperary.

Tipperary won their first Munster title after a 16-year gap in 1987 with team captain Richard Stakelum uttering the now immortal words, ‘the famine has ended’ in the aftermath of the win over Cork.

Those days will survive the test of time in those counties and are very much an integral part of the never-ending success story of the Munster SHC.

For years the title was very much the sole preserve of Cork and Tipperary and between them they have won 96 titles as against a combined total of 37 for the other Munster counties.

In many instances, All-Ireland final days have been overshadowed with what transpired on Munster final day and some of the greatest games of hurling have been played out in the province.

COMPETITIVE

The playing field is far more level these days than it used to be and predicting an outright winner is a hugely difficult task.

In fact, one would not be too far wide of the mark in suggesting that there’s hardly a puck of a ball separating the five participants.

Munster is now very aptly described as a minefield and in any game, it’s difficult to place a favourites tag above the other. The general consensus this time is that Limerick are well ahead of the others but very few, if any, on Shannonside buy into that.

They were monarchs of all they surveyed last season in all competitions but things can change very quickly from year to year and in the unprecedented times that we are living in, anything is possible.

There is no doubt that Limerick’s depth of resources is greater than the rest and for some time now that has been proved.

They are in the position that if a serious injury is sustained by one or two of their key players it may not matter as much as it would in the other counties.

The question is often posed, is league form relevant when it comes to the championship?

There is no doubt that a positive league campaign gives a team that bit of momentum going into a major championship showdown and the secondary competition should provide a management team with a greater insight into what their championship starting 15 will be.

All the five Munster counties had a mixed league, some starting off very well but finishing poorly and others doing the opposite.

At the end of the day, however, the league and championship are much different and the true worth of any side does not become known until they enter the white heat of a Munster championship game.

And it’s a similar story in Leinster.

CLASSICS

Over the past 20 years, we have been blessed to have witnessed some thrilling games in the province and to select a few you’d take the 1991 replay between Cork and Tipp which the Premier County won with an injury-time Aidan Ryan goal.

The 1997 final between Clare and Tipp was another epic as was the 2000 final when Joe Deane posted 0-10 as Cork overcame their old rivals.

Many would pencil in the Cork and Waterford Munster final of 2004 as being the best of all, a day when John Mullane was sent off and Paul Flynn scored a sublime goal.

The Munster championship is littered with those great days and for Cork fans the 1984 Centenary Year victory against Tipp in Thurles final is right up there among the most glorious.

The potential is certainly there again this time for some of those epic encounters to be emulated.

Here on Leeside and since the draw paired them together, it’s all about Cork and Limerick.

Very few, if any pundits, will be coming down on the side of Cork and that is exactly the way Kieran Kingston will like it.

Yes, Limerick are favourites but in the hurling homes on Shannonside they will tell you that Cork is the one county that they are warier of than the others.

Every game in Munster this season is loaded with massive potential and the fare on offer could be right up there with the best we have seen through the ages.

It really is an equal opportunity for all concerned.

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