What event is as admired in principle yet as forgettable in reality as a league semi-final?
Cod yourself about last week’s football double-header all you like, but you won’t be able to name the participant in six months’ time. One crucial difference between those games and yesterday’s is that the footballers of Dublin, Cork, Mayo and Derry are unlikely to see each other until deep in the summer.
Not so Dublin and Kilkenny, who share a province; the same for Clare and Tipperary.
In both cases you could make a case for one team with more to gain than their opponents in winning, but even that carrot didn’t guarantee championship pace, despite a crowd — 24,052 — and conditions on loan from summer.
Certainly the first game was identifiable as a league clash in everything but the firm going underfoot. Galway and Kilkenny was a case of confirming your prejudices rather than the shock of the new.
Henry Shefflin’s competitiveness and Joe Canning’s wrists are fixed points of the compass rather than anybody’s idea of revelation, though the former’s touch and pass on 40 minutes was still, you know, pretty effortless cool.
The first half was bloodless but Galway had a five-point lead at the break. It took Kilkenny 10 minutes of brisk efficiency to level and the two teams shrugged themselves a gear higher.
Galway’s David Burke hit the bar and Shefflin cushioned a lovely pass to John Power but no goals. Canning at one end and Power at the other were undone by terrific flicks and hooks respectively within a couple of minutes of each other before Power got a route-one goal, picking off a David Herity free and goaling from close range. That remained the difference between the teams, give or take, until the end.
At the final whistle the Galway manager was already looking ahead to the teams’ next meeting.
“For the first 10 minutes of the second half there we lost control of the middle third but we came strong again,” said Anthony Cunningham.
“That’s something that’ll happen with the opposition we’re going to meet, but we rallied strongly again towards the finish.”
Brian Cody, as might be expected, didn’t acknowledge later encounters this year might have affected the competitiveness yesterday.
“Not a hope — not at all. I don’t think it’s something you can do either. You can pretend you do if you lose.
“No, there’s no holding back. You just go out and try to win the game that you’re playing.”
Winning without friction is no longer an option for Kilkenny, if ever it was.
It’s difficult to evaluate the balance of a Kilkenny without Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrrell, Eoin Larkin — feel free to add names yourself — but they created more goal chances than Galway, certainly. Their less familiar names also shone brightly, which certainly shortened the road home for those in black and amber.
The second game? Waterford, Limerick and Cork will clear their throats and speak up, but Clare and Tipperary surely give themselves a good chance of meeting in a Munster hurling final later in the year.
They did a marginally better job yesterday in forgetting it was April, rattling along at a quicker pace than the curtain-raiser and billowing the net twice in the first quarter: Cathal McInerney had a pushover try for Clare and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher a cracking finish off the run for Tipp.
The game subsided after that early flurry, though, with Tipp stretching out to a decent lead.
When Clare goaled through Pat Donnellan on the resumption the game livened up, but ‘Bonner’ Maher’s second goal, a carbon copy of his first, re-established Tipperary’s supremacy. Clare needed another goal to have a chance of winning and Brendan Maher’s covering was good enough to shield his full-back line from any such likelihood.
Eamon O’Shea’s candour afterwards summed up the day all round, perhaps.
“I thought it was a good battle but I thought neither team was at their best, I’ll be honest,” said the Tipp manager.
“In the same way as I’d caution you when we were losing games, I’d caution you now when we’re winning games.
“There’s a lot of work to be done before teams equal out.”
There are other readings you could apply to yesterday’s games, of course.
Compare the relative success each side enjoyed in getting their key forward on the ball — Galway with Joe Canning, very little, Kilkenny with Henry Shefflin, a good deal.
Clare struggled to free Tony Kelly from an impressive Brendan Maher but Seamus Callanan was a potent focal point for Tipp up front (even if his lifting technique for frees might benefit from a little polish).
That was yesterday for you all over. A little bit admirable and a little bit forgettable, all at once.
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