BEFORE the commencement of the championship, Dublin’s senior hurlers were very much down the pecking order in the list of contenders for honours.
They probably still are, but they are in a Leinster final and subsequently an All-Ireland quarter-final as a result of a terrific and fully deserved win over Galway.
Prior to that victory over the Westerners, Dublin hurling had received a huge boost after their U20 team had won the Leinster title, defeating a Galway team again.
It was very much a case therefore of a rising tide lifting all boats where they were concerned.
One might ask why are we focusing on Dublin down here?
Well, the answer to that poser is very simple, that Dublin U20 side are taking on Cork in the All-Ireland final tomorrow night in Nowlan Park. And because of the fact that it’s Dublin, there is a perception that Cork might have it handy.
Of course, that is ridiculous and one is certain that there will be no element of complacency allowed by the Cork management that has been superbly managed by Pat Ryan and his backroom team.
The Cork seniors were unable to provide the U20s with the boost of a senior win over Limerick, but it’s all about the younger team this weekend before the seniors embark on the All-Ireland qualifying trail.
This is a hugely important game for Cork hurling and an All-Ireland title victory would boost the senior team thereafter as they try to get back on track.
It’s generally acknowledged that this is one of the best Cork U20 or U21 sides, as was previously the case, for some time; a side containing a number of players with huge potential that will backbone the senior side for years to come.
We have to go back to 1998 since a Cork team last triumphed at this level, the then U21 team winning back-to-back titles under another Sarsfields stalwart, Bertie Óg Murphy. That victory laid a solid foundation for what came next, a couple of senior titles a few years later.
This Cork U20 side has shown what they are capable of in Munster, defeating Limerick with a superb extra-time display in the semi-final and Tipp by a few points in the final. Dublin, of course, have the advantage of playing competitively in more recent times with that Leinster final victory and that has to be an advantage.
There is depth to the squad too and the players at the management’s disposal don’t make it easy for them when they sit down to name 15.
Dublin have played four games en-route to the final, defeating Antrim, Offaly, Wexford, and Galway and players like Lee Gannon, Mark Sweeney, Dara Purcell and Liam Murphy proved their credentials in those wins.
Pat Ryan will have studied this Dublin side diligently and will be aware that nothing ever comes easy in an All-Ireland final and right now Dublin hurling is on a high.
Cork hurling desperately needs an All-Ireland title victory and after the disappointment of the loss to Limerick last weekend, a win in Nowlan Park might provide a similar lift that Dublin hurling got out of their Leinster final win.
And let’s hope we don’t have the controversy of last weekend to deal with, in the Clare, Tipperary game.
As one who has followed all sporting codes for well over 50 years, the decision to award Tipperary a penalty for an infringement that was nearer to the Ennis Road than it was to the Clare goal was absolutely mind-boggling.
I don’t care what way this ridiculous rule is interpreted, it was a crazy decision that must have been bewildering to those present.
As Brian Gavin stated in last Monday’s Irish Examiner, moments like this pose a real threat to the hurling summer.
Imagine an All-Ireland final being decided by a decision like that and it certainly was a huge turning point in the Gaelic Grounds.
Right now, referees are bamboozled by some of these new rules and the one that caused so much controversy in the Clare, Tipp game must never be applied again.
In that same game, Clare’s Aaron Shanagher was rugby tackled by Barry Heffernan a few feet from the goal line and nothing was given when it was as clear as daylight that a penalty should have been the award.
James Owens got it badly wrong on both counts but the referee is not always to blame because they are all over the place sometimes in trying to interpret these new rules that are being thrown at them.
This sin bin/penalty rule has to be looked at again and referees must be told quite clearly how to implement it.
The GAA was made a laughing stock of last weekend with the award of that penalty that had a huge effect on the outcome of the Tipp and Clare game. It must not happen again.