FIELD OF DREAMS
GALWAY AND LIMERICK READY TO BRING DOWN CURTAIN ON HURLING’S YEAR OF YEARS
THE end, well, it had to come sometime. After a hurling championship of rare quality and unprecedented quantity, with a dizzy surfeit of thrilling matches, the field has been funnelled down to the last two, Galway and Limerick.
Having the final day in August breaks from tradition, and for an innovative championship, with new round-robin formats in Leinster and Munster, it seems fitting that the conclusion should feel fresh and intriguing. These two teams last met here in 1980.
At that point in hurling’s evolution, when a Pope’s visit was more likely to influence the winning captain’s speech than now, Limerick were only seven years after winning their seventh All-Ireland.
If they were feeling the itch, it seems trivial with the benefit of hindsight, placed in the context of the 38 more barren years that have followed. Finals in 1994, ’96 and ’07, all lost, some cruelly. This is the longest Limerick has ever gone without winning an All-Ireland senior hurling title.
They come today with renewed hope, pinned on a team that’s young in the main, not lacking the redoubtable Limerick traits which always made them formidable, only that now those qualities are married to modern science and precision. A team of their time.
Under the watchful eye of an almost pathologically cautious John Kiely, it has been enough to get them through the round-robin series, circumventing the Munster final, posting exciting wins over traditional behemoths Kilkenny and Cork.
Hurling is prone to wild mood swings, left and right. One day it is cock of the walk and the next you could hear someone proclaiming that the end is nigh. But this is as democratic a time as hurling has ever been played in. When Limerick last triumphed, Offaly were still eight years from winning a first senior title. Clare were 22 from their first All-Ireland in 81 years. Waterford hadn’t won a Munster senior title in ten years and were made wait another 29. Dublin had gone 12 years without conquering Leinster; they would endure another 40 on top of that. Aside from that one Limerick exception, in the ’70s the titles were mopped up by the traditional big three, Tipp, Cork and Kilkenny.
Last year Galway battled their own demons having failed to win an All-Ireland in 29 years, the prospect of Joe Canning completing a Celtic Cross-less career no longer fanciful. A year later they are still unbeaten, and while their hurling hasn’t been of the same aristocratic flair of last year, they are winning matches, doing enough, not losing ones they used to routinely.
They will be notoriously hard to beat. It will take something special from Limerick to deny them. We expect to be bounteously entertained in finding out whether hurling’s greatest prize is to be ribboned in green or maroon later this afternoon.