During the pandemic, when match attendance was limited or prohibited, there were quite a few trips to Semple Stadium – or FBD Semple Stadium, as it has been known since January.
Ideally, I like to be at a game an hour before throw-in but a half-hour beforehand is acceptable. With little or no traffic to contend with, departing home just over two hours ahead of the start-time was plenty, whereas the window would have to be at least three hours for a ‘normal’ big game.
Sunday afternoon’s clash between Tipperary and Clare felt like a return to lockdown times as, with quiet roads heading north, it was possible to leave just after the Angelus and still be in good time. It should be admitted for full transparency that the possession of a parking pass for Coláiste Mhuire did remove some quantity of anxiety.
I wasn’t the only Cork person in Thurles, just in front of my berth in the Ryan Stand press box were the members of the county senior hurling management team.
Whether or not they anticipated such a comfortable win for Clare against Tipperary is something only they know; still, forewarned is forearmed ahead of the ‘home’ game against the Banner at the same venue next Sunday afternoon.
There may have been another Rebel County native present, or perhaps it was just somebody who bought a car that was originally registered in Cork. Whatever the case, the PA announcer at the stadium certainly raised the suspense levels. “The owner of car number 162-C-777 must return to it immediately. That’s 162-C, seven, seven…seven” – just in case car numbers 776 or 778 were also present and wondering if there had been a mistake.
Having put so much into trying to beat Waterford and falling short, it should not perhaps be a surprise that Tipp couldn’t bring the same level of performance, especially against a Clare side that were able to target this game as a chance to lay down a marker.
It looks like being a period of transition for Tipp as the big players who helped them to win three All-Irelands in a decade move on, though there could be a case made that the All-Ireland U21 win of 2018 and U20 title of 2019 were not harnessed quickly enough to bring through the best players from those successes. But then, they won the senior All-Ireland in 2019 and made the Munster finals of 2020 and 2021, when the unusual circumstances meant that the tried and tested was a better option.
Unfortunately for Colm Bonnar’s side, they now have to try to win away to Limerick the weekend after next to keep their championship hopes alive and that won’t be easy. Whatever happened on Sunday, there was going to be a lot riding on the Clare-Cork game and there won’t be any lack of championship intensity next Sunday.
Finally, congratulations to Brian Hayes on winning the 96FM Sports Star of the Year Award last Friday night. Like the return of the crowds to the matches, the re-insertion of this ceremony – always expertly conducted by the station’s GAA maestro Finbarr McCarthy – is a signal of a return to something approaching normal.
Hayes won two All-Ireland U20 hurling medals in quick succession last summer as well as captaining the county footballers to the Munster title at that grade, Hayes also made an impact for the St Finbarr’s senior teams, helping the footballers to win another county title.
Darragh O’Sullivan from Ballinhassig won the Kieran O’Driscoll Helping Hand Award after playing a starring role as Cork won the minor All-Ireland hurling title for the first time since 2001. While he featured at corner-back for Noel Furlong’s side – and has since made the step up to U20 level – he is equally comfortable further out the field and he is sure to be a name we hear more of.
And there could not have been a more worthy winner of the Donal Lehane Distinguished Career Award than Ger Fitzgerald, who joined a select band who have won the county SHC as a captain and manager when Midleton claimed the Seán Óg Murphy Cup last November. In media dealings with Fitzgerald, he has never been anything short of courteous and helpful and I look forward to more of that in the future.
A clash with a family event meant that I couldn’t attend Rochestown Park Hotel for Friday’s awards but, hopefully, when things are back to normal even more next year, I’ll be there.