READ­ING BE­TWEEN THE LINES

So what of the matchups in this af­ter­noon’s All-Ire­land fi­nal? Jame­sie O’Con­nor runs the rule over the key bat­tles that await us

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES -

IN my first three years with Clare, I played a to­tal of 10 cham­pi­onship matches, in­clud­ing an im­prob­a­ble Al­lIre­land win­ning cam­paign. Lim­er­ick have played seven matches al­ready this sum­mer, Gal­way have been through eight. And yet the sil­ver­ware they as­pire to has yet to be claimed. That shows the en­ergy th­ese teams have ex­pended just to get to to­day’s fi­nal.

One more hur­dle re­mains to be jumped, how­ever, one more mas­sive ef­fort re­quired be­fore the cham­pi­ons are crowned.

What a sum­mer of hurl­ing it’s been. The ex­tent to which the new for­mat has cap­tured the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion has sur­passed all our ex­pec­ta­tions. Dublin v Kilkenny, Wex­ford v Kilkenny, Cork v Tipp, Clare v Tipp, Cork v Lim­er­ick, Water­ford v Tipp — all clas­sic en­coun­ters, and that’s not the full ex­tent of the high­lights reel.

Cork’s come­back in the Mun­ster fi­nal, Kilkenny’s bel­liger­ence and re­fusal to sur­ren­der in the Le­in­ster fi­nal. Throw in the Kilkenny v Lim­er­ick quar­ter-fi­nal, a pair of epic semi-fi­nals, plus the drama of the re­play and we’ve had a dis­pro­por­tion­ately high num­ber of high-qual­ity matches. As Max­imus shouted to the Colos­seum hordes in Gla­di­a­tor, “Are you not en­ter­tained?” The an­swer to that one is an em­phatic yes.

While it could just as eas­ily have been Clare and Cork in the fi­nal, on bal­ance the two best teams are there. Gal­way re­main the only side to go un­de­feated, but ques­tions ex­ist about what the two re­plays have taken out of them.

Lim­er­ick lack their op­po­nents’ biggame ex­pe­ri­ence, but come in with the ex­u­ber­ance of youth, mas­sive come­back wins over two of the tra­di­tional pow­ers and a gen­uine be­lief that this is their year.

Some­thing has to give, but ir­re­spec­tive of who comes out on top, the 2018 win­ners will be the wor­thi­est of wor­thy All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons at 5pm this evening.

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