The best day of the sporting year

Dear Larry McCarthy,

Please leave well enough alone. Thank you. The dust had hardly settled on the best day of the sporting year when the outgoing GAA President started blurting about fixing it that the Leinster and Munster SHC Finals wouldn’t be on the same day again.

Utter idiocy. It’s not as if people attending one would want or be able to be at the other anyway. With all the brouhaha that accompanies the allocation of media rights and the like, it would be confidently ventured that the Sunday just past must represent the biggest audience figures for broadcasters outside of both mens All Ireland senior deciders. Or maybe bigger than some of them.

Those from the counties involved in one match wanting to see the other shouldn’t be a problem in this day and age. There’s no reason why every inter county ground in the country couldn’t have a big screen so that, with staggered start times, there’s no reason why fans at one venue couldn’t see the action at the other either before or after their own match.

Talk of big screens and the like got me thinking. More than that, it took an old chestnut out of the press and slapped it on the frying pan. That being the quandry of where, exactly, county team sponsor’s money goes. As in, it can’t all go on gear and meals and the like.

So, with hardliners still so vehemently opposed to paying players (they’ll probably come to their senses when it’s all too late) it should be entirely feasible for each inter county ground to be kitted out with a big screen and/or floodlights.

Thankfully though, lack of forward planning worked in favour of those us who can’t get to as many matches as would be desired. Or, as it could also be put from a personal perspective, those of us for whom trying to find an airborne sliotar in the flesh is akin to attempting to spot white blackbirds.

Now, I’ve never made any secret of the fact that the Munster SHC Final is my favourite sporting event of the year, regardless of where it’s being played or what two teams are competing. Don’t ask me to explain it, but, if you’re still not convinced, take an hour and a bit out of your day, watch last Sunday’s incarnation and then come back to me.

Brian Lohan was and shall remain the best hurling full back the one seeing eye here crossed. Kevin Kinahan and Noel Hickey would unquestionably run him tight but wouldn’t overtake the unstrapped red helmetted Galactico. That said, no matter what I might think of him as a player, though, it’s my firm belief that whatever is at the root of the fued between himself and Davy Fitz was Lohan’s doing.

However, that blot on his copybook cannot cancel out his brilliance as a player or, indeed, his fine track record as a manager. And even, or perhaps especially, in defeat on Sunday last, his pure class as a man shone through like a beacon.

Even the most ardent Limerick fan would surely concede that Clare were desperately unlucky not to get a free in what turned out to be the last play of the game. Both Adam Hogan and Tony Kelly were blatantly fouled, while gut instinct here would be that Lohan was bareface lied to by the man with the whistle when the Wolfe Tones clubman inquired as to how much time would be added on owing to the ‘pitch invasion’ after Limerick fans mistakenly bolted after what they thought was the long whistle.

Of course, if Liam Gordon had used his head it should have been. Thus Clare could’ve had no complaints. But the Galway official’s actions after the Clare manager had sought clarity were like a pat on the back and a kick in the arse all at the same time.

While issue could easily have been taken with some of Lohan’s comments in the immediate aftermath of the result regarding, to put it very lightly, infrastructure and resources in Limerick, the Shannon man admitted his own team’s profligacy was ultimately their undoing.

The imperious Brian Lohan about to drive it

They could and should have been further in front than Mark Rodgers’s goal at the interval. The upshot of not being, though, cognisance of Limerick’s prowess as a second half entity almost foretold what was to come. From the minute Aaron Gillane carressed the ball beyond Eibhar Quilligan, the predictable avaldnche of green and white points duly landed.

A restraining order wouldn’t have held Gillane on the day but his performance echoed identically to that of Ollie Murphy in the 1999 Leinster SFC Final. Also like that day, where Tommy Carr waited a ridiculous length to take Peadar Andrews out of misery, Lohan et al were similarly ponderous about giving Cian Nolan compassionate leave.

Where the situations differed though was that, while Meath did ease down a few furlongs from home that day, it is not in the Limerick psyche to do so. So, even if Gillane did adjust engine speed down by a few gears, Kyle Hayes, Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey, Adam English, Cathal O’Neill and David Reidy continued to fire over points like a barman at 17:59 on Arthur’s Day, when that was a thing!

Tom Morrissey is growing in status within the Limerick team all the time

To their immense credit, Clare refused to bend (like the high class racehorse of the same name) and their own barrage of bullets, fired off by Diarmuid Ryan, Cathal Malone, David Fitzgerald, Tony Kelly, Shane O’Donnell and Rodgers guaranteed the cliffhanger finish.

In the aftermath of his side’s fifth consecutive collection of the Mick Mackey Cup, Limerick boss John Kiely was fulsome in his praise of the impact his bench had on the eventual outcome. Limerick needed every one of the extra inches infused to get over the line.

You suspect, too, that Clare needed the win on this occasion more than did their opponents. Lohan is in a situ four years now and, in the unnecessarily cut-throat world of what (we are told) isn’t a professional sport, there will be a cohort of idiots taking the knives to the sharpening stone in readiness for action. They can pull that horse up, the Clare shout may be heard again soon enough. This year and beyond.


Whatever about Clare needing the win more than Limerick, that was surely true for Galway in the day’s other epic – the Leinster Final between themselves and Kilkenny at Croke Park. That might seem strange, given that Henry Shefflin is only in his second season where the fields lie low. The problem for the King, though, is that his mere presence with any team brings pressure in itself.

Having said that, right from the off this time round, the maroon and white settled to their task promptly enough, with the much maligned Conor Whelan rifling past Eoin Murphy and Tom Monaghan, Kevin Cooney and Evan Niland joining him in flashing over points.

Kilkenny, however, are a phenomenon. When Martin Keoghan did what he always does, goaled, it became clear it was going to be a ding-dong battle. But it couldn’t match the majesty of what lit up Limerick, could it? Hold that thought!

When Keoghan pulled up sharply with what looked like a hamstring injury – thus adding to a casualty list already comprising but not limited to Richie Reid, Richie Hogan, Adrian Mullen and Mikey Carey – you’d have thought that was curtains.

Not with Kilkenny. Not when you’ve a man mountain like Walter Walsh lying in wait. Remember, this is a guy who made his senior DEBUT in an All Ireland Final replay and ended up Man Of The Match.

It was a very similar this time around. Again the big man plucked the sliotar the air, took off with the wingspan of a Boeing 747 before invoking memories of Irish soccer’s glory days, commissioning his own version of the John Aldridge shuffle before blasting past Eanna Murphy.

That left matters knotted at 2-09 to 1-12 before it was time for Act II. You’ll note that up to now there’s been been no mention of TJ. Yet he was there, as he always is. Clipping over points. Chasing down records. He’ll probably catch Pat Horgan’s record before year-end. Which is why there needs to be a petition to ensure Hoggy goes again for at least one more year. Characters such as them, without blemish, don’t surface too often.

Anyway, with Whelan, Niland, Kevin Cooney and Cathal Mannion hurling like men possessed, it appeared the provincial ‘visitors’ were going to be able to keep the Leinster locals at arm’s length. How many lives do cats have?!

In actual fact, the closing stages of the latest joust for the Bob O’Keeffe Cup were almost a carbon copy of what went before them at the Gaelic Grounds. Galway hurled out of their skins but never looked like putting Derek Lyng’s lads away, something aided by their own bout of profuse profligacy.

Like many before them and probably plenty more still to come, the Tribesmen learned the harsh lesson that if you dangle the ball of wool in front of a cat for long enough, you’re asking to be scraped. Especially when this cat pack have claws equal to or perhaps even better than those Shannonside in the guise of Mikey Butler, Walter Walsh, Cillian Buckley, Billy Drennan and God knows how many else.

Granted, Butler in fact started, but he still wouldn’t have been expected to pop up as a goal scorer at a time when his colleagues were up a certain creek and short of an instrument to propel themselves with. In contrast, anybody who was foolish enough to buy into the notion that Kilkenny were in some form of perceived decline need only look at the fact that they were able to leave a decorated warrior of the ilk of Buckley lying in reserve. A game changer, waiting to pounce.

Cillian Buckley was Kilkenny’s match winner

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