After all of the crash-bang-wallop scheduling, the GAA summer moves to serious business this weekend.
During an early summer when complaints about uncompetitive provincial football championships have been followed by denunciation of infuriatingly permissive round-robins, the Munster hurling championship has been a beacon.
Its unremittingly splendid play and unfeasibly close results beamed out — or in some highly disapproved of circumstances — streamed out the ancient rituals of our oldest sport.
If anyone needed persuading about this, look at last year’s final, a Wagnerian spectacle that was spectacularly extended into extra-time by Tony Kelly’s geometric precision from the most acutely angled sideline cut
The Munster hurling final may not be sudden death but it retains a mystical allure for the counties, as Limerick chase their first five-in-a-row of provincial titles — something only Cork previously managed — and Clare look for a first since the madcap summer of 1998.
If anyone needed persuading about this, look at last year’s final, a Wagnerian spectacle that was spectacularly extended into extra-time by Tony Kelly’s geometric precision from the most acutely angled sideline cut.
In retrospect might he have been better guiding the effort respectably wide? Probably, because Clare narrowly lost the final and were flattened by fatigue when moving into the All-Ireland stages.
That hardly occurred to the Clare captain when he lined up the shot to prolong the final and keep alive the hopes of a title.
There is a sense that manager Brian Lohan would love to land the Munster title last seen at the other end of the Ennis Road 25 years ago. It would be tangible recognition for a team that has richly contributed to the last two provincial championships, topping the table each year.
Clare threw the dice in accepting their opponents’ home venue for the final, as they didn’t wish to travel to Cork and weren’t going to get Thurles. But on the face of it, the TUS Gaelic Grounds hosted their defeat of the All-Ireland champions six weeks ago and will be a short — whatever about easy — trip for their yearning supporters.
The “sold out” signs went up a while ago and in an effort to persuade supporters to make their way early to the ground, Munster Council have laid on musical entertainment as bait
The ground has hallowed significance for them because it’s where the fabled 1995 championship began with a last-minute win over Cork and proceeded all the way to Thurles and Croke Park.
The “sold out” signs went up a while ago and in an effort to persuade supporters to make their way early to the ground, Munster Council have laid on musical entertainment as bait.
Mundy, Sharon Shannon and Paddy Casey have been entrusted with the siren calls to those deliberating on whether an extra pint is more alluring than easing the provincial council’s crowd control.
For Limerick, it’s an opportunity to create a record for themselves but more importantly to affirm that their indifferent form since winning the league has now been overcome and that they are ready to tilt at another piece of history, a fourth successive All-Ireland.
Team news didn’t resolve many issues. Conor Cleary, Clare’s full back who looked to have hurt his shoulder in the win over Cork, was named on the starting team and for the champions, wizard-in-residence Cian Lynch is listed on the bench, as he inches his way back from a hamstring injury. We shall know the truth of these situations when the 15 players on either team line up for the anthem.
Last year was a dismal enough spectacle as Galway flittered away chances to win a fourth Leinster title since entering the province in 2009
Completing the hurling picture later on Sunday will be the Leinster final between champions Kilkenny and Galway, a fourth time in six years for the pairing.
Last year was a dismal enough spectacle as Galway flittered away chances to win a fourth Leinster title since entering the province in 2009. So forgettable was the match that the aftermath commanded most interest, as Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin produced one of the most scrutinised handshakes since Gerry Adams circa 30 years ago.
Team news confirmed the absence of Adrian Mullen, Kilkenny’s All-Star centre fielder who fractured his thumb in the final regulation match, against Wexford.
Unlike Limerick, there will be plenty of tickets on sale for Croke Park. Leinster Council officials estimate that the attendance will be in the mid-20,000s.
Although the question has been asked whether the provincial final might be better staged in a smaller venue, the fact is —as pointed out — “we have a problem that the only ground which could take even Sunday’s expected crowd is UPMC Nowlan Park, which Galway could hardly be expected to agree”.