Galway are there. Cork and Waterford are nearly there. Hurling is taking its August turns. Lovely late summer cadences.
Load of hydraulics, pardon the phrase. Hurling, winning hurling, marches to a different beat. Fury got mentioned here last week as the element that might drive Galway over the line, might put them there.
Fury beat Tipperary by a point. Galway simply could not afford to lose. That outcome would have scarred their soul, same as loss in 2016 would have flayed Tipperary’s soul.
Joe Canning, so often a reputation in search of a performance, confirmed himself a great hurler in the last quarter. Those minutes would stand with any fiats in Croke Park, with Mick Mackey and Christy Ring and all the rest. Canning is as clean a striker of a sliotar as ever caught a hurl.
He found his max when absolutely taxed. A hurler can do no more.
True, Canning did not produce a complete performance, a 70-minute performance. This element made his showing all the more impressive. Last Sunday was the first time Joe Canning finished a contest far stronger than he started it.
This splice is a signature of character marrying talent. The same marriage drove Jamesie O’Connor’s wonderful second-half performance against
Tipperary in the 1997 Senior final, an occasion on which the great Clare forward struggled at first.
Tipperary lost a game but no face. Their performance was by far season’s best, replete with facets to admire. They went down with the dignity of deserved champions.
As memories of the day itself fade, Tipp will appreciate this aspect’s significance. Michael Ryan, both in the winning and in the losing of games, has delivered a better place.
My sense of their campaign? That the relentless emphasis on doing two in a row, right from last autumn, left them somewhat overcooked by high summer. Expectation of this kind is a draining affair. Their hurling, while diligent, lacked last year’s sparkle and freshness.
Equally, Tipperary do not possess the strength in depth needed for successive titles. Substituting a substitute, as transpired against Galway with Jason Forde, speaks for itself. Spring talk of Tipperary as ‘the new Kilkenny’, where panel depth is concerned, proved a summer mirage.
This Sunday, Cork or Waterford? The former are warmer favourites in public perception than indicated by the slight edge offered by bookmakers. While Cork,
historically, are comfortable with favouritism, Waterford prefer underdog status. A sliver of Déise encouragement?
Here is a passage from the Munster semi-final of eight weeks ago, when Cork beat Waterford by five points, 0-23 to 1-15. This passage concentrates cruxes.
46th minute: Cork midfielder Bill Cooper clears the ball to the opposition half back line in misdirected fashion. Tadhg de Búrca, Waterford’s centre back, comes to collect.
Skilful out, de Búrca sells a beautiful dummy handpass and glides by a Cork forward. He advances into midfield, before flicking the ball low and laterally towards Kevin Moran.
Understandably enough, Moran fails to gather and Waterford lose possession. Ironically enough, play develops and Cork centre back Mark Ellis fails to kill a ball on the ground in the middle. Maurice Shanahan gains possession and makes for goal. Pouncing on a deflection off Damien Cahalane’s leg, Shanahan nets with a groundstroke.
We need to parse this passage. Why did so precise a hurler as de Búrca try such a silly pass to Moran? Why did he not release a diagonal ball to his left corner forward?
Postcards to Derek McGrath, Waterford manager. The Cork backs, Mark Coleman and Christopher Joyce excepted, are vulnerable in tight situations when the ball is on the ground. The body shape adopted is often wrong, static, and inviting a successful tackle.
Do Waterford play in a manner that strives to maximise such difficulties? No. Does this approach make sense? Not to me.
Hanging over these observations is the fact that Tadhg de Búrca, barring a reprieve last night, will miss Sunday’s contest. He is far more than a sweeper. As anyone who has seen him hurl for UCD quickly appreciates, de Búrca is one of the best defenders in Ireland.
His loss is unquantifiable, over and above chatter about systems and structures. How would Galway have fared against Tipperary if Daithí Burke, their best back, had been suspended? Personnel are the alpha and omega of hurling’s alphabet.
Can Waterford bridge June’s five-point gap? If nothing else, Austin Gleeson, Kevin Moran, and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh are moving better than eight weeks ago (emphatically so, in the last two men’s case). A powerful showing by Gleeson, as naturally gifted as Joe Canning, likely tilts the balance.
Gleeson must match
astonishing talent with cold composure, must do the Fahrenheit things nobody else can manage but hurl most of the match in Centigrade.
For Cork, Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon are entrusted to take the ball into contact, when transitioning to attack. Waterford require a plan that stifles this duo’s influence, be it a man-marking job or whatever.
If Coleman and Fitzgibbon are denied a portion of the line-breaking opportunities typically seized, Cork’s offensive threat will contract.
What Waterford do not require is a level of obsession with Anthony Nash’s puckouts that outstrips reason. Keeping an eye to Conor Lehane as a minatory puckout outlet should necessitate withdrawing no more than one player. If Cork go short, let Stephen McDonnell, their least accomplished ballplayer, be the receiver. If McDonnell does not thrive in this role, Cork will have to go long.
My gut sense is that Waterford are better fixed than widely recognised. This
meeting might even have ‘draw’ watermarked on it, a spool to something like 1-19 apiece.
Still, you always have to hesitate about Waterford, given their approach, given the 46th minute of their last meeting with Cork. Have they enough downright fury?
Less needs to fall into place for Cork to succeed. The panache of their hurling so far deserves a nod as regards getting there.
Something like 2-20 to 1-19.