Departing Galway and Waterford find their hopes turn to ‘if onlys’

Clare and Limerick to meet in Munster final for third year in a row, while Kilkenny and Dublin will contest Leinster final

A week of “what ifs?” dissolved into a collection of “if onlys?” The concluding series of provincial games is a signature day in the hurling season now, and if there weren’t as many cliffhangers or plot-twists as other years there was still plenty of tobacco for chewing.

Galway and Waterford were the biggest losers, eliminated before the knockout stages with chastening defeats; without pucking a ball Cork were among the biggest winners their season rescued by Limerick’s 10-point victory in the Gaelic Grounds.

The upshot is that Clare and Limerick will meet in the Munster final for the third year in a row while Kilkenny and Dublin will contest the Leinster final for the first time since 2021. Wexford ran Kilkenny to a point in a terrific match in Nowlan Park but when the dust settled they had landed in third place.

In any other season Galway’s fourth-placed finish in Leinster would have been a side-winding shock, but after two years of stasis under Henry Shefflin this year was defined by irrefutable decline. Dublin beat them by six points in Pearse Stadium, 2-27 to 1-24, the game shaped by a straight red for David Burke after 16 minutes.


He was dismissed for a frontal shoulder charge on Fergal Whitely. Whether there was contact to the head or not was inconclusive on television replays, but the threshold for a red card in a situation like that is whether the tackle had been dangerous and that case was not hard to prosecute.

After the game Shefflin seemed to have a slightly testy exchange with the Dublin manager Michael Donohoe, who parted their handshake with a finger-wagging from the Galway manager – not unlike the scolding gesture Brian Cody had visited on Shefflin a couple of years ago. The context was clarified in Shefflin’s post-match remarks.

“I didn’t see it full on but I obviously saw the clip there after and for me it’s a yellow card,” said Shefflin. “When you have the opposing manager as well in the linesman’s ear telling him that it should be a red card I think the linesmen and the officials need to support each other.”

Colm Lyons consulted his linesman before making the decision. It was clearly a huge turning point in the game, and when Dublin settled down they used the extra man smartly. Trailing by just two points at the break they played with the wind in the second half and started the second half with six unanswered points. After that they didn’t look back.

Limerick took a while to get into gear against Waterford but they outscored them by 0-9 to 0-1 coming down the stretch. The All-Ireland champions finished the game with 19 wides, 14 of which came in a clumsy first half when they scattered their shots like sugar on their porridge.

In most of his post-match answers John Kiely declared his satisfaction with Limerick’s performance and their progress to another Munster final, but he was clearly irritated by their shooting and his face betrayed the tension of the day.

“What I do know is that our performance levels are higher than what they were last year and the year before when you look at the data that’s there – which is the most important part of it for me. Our average performance level is up and up a nice little bit,” said Kiely.

“A lot was said about us needing to be knocked out in the Munster championship. We’re still here and we want to drive on. Great sense of achievement having come through the round robin in the manner we have. There were dips here and there but at the same time we’re in a good place to push on.”

Davy Fitzgerald reckoned the energy had been sucked out of his players by their laudable effort in Ennis a week earlier. In truth their qualification should have been secured in week two when they surrendered a four-point lead in injury time against Tipperary. He complained, gently, about a few Limerick frees late in the game that he described as “easy” but he was generous about Limerick’s superiority.

After his second season in charge both Fitzgerald and the Waterford county board have an option for a third year. Fitzgerald wasn’t getting into that conversation. Shefflin faced a question about his future too, and kicked the can down the road a little, though not too far.

Tipperary recovered some face in a three-point defeat to Clare in Thurles but that didn’t spare Liam Cahill being asked if he was the “best man” for the job. Cahill took “umbrage” at the question. He has another year on his term and believes the county board is behind him.

Should any team be out of the hurling championship before the end of May? The football championship continues its game of billiards at a stately pace. Five teams left hurling’s pool hall yesterday, beaten by the breakneck potting.

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times