Last winter the All-Ireland championships were like a comfort blanket for the nation. Now, on the hottest weekend of the year, the old games moved across the land like a breath of cool air with a series of stunning football and hurling games. Here was the best of it: mythical championship weather, tar-melting country roads, radios on the beaches, and unforgettable games for those who drew the shades and stayed inside – or made it to the grounds.
Sunday’s Munster hurling final has deepened the Limerick mystique. In a stunning game played in the broiling amphitheatre of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the All-Ireland champions trailed Tipperary by 10 points at half-time but rallied to win by five on a wildfire scoreline of 2-29 to 3-21.
"It was breathtaking stuff. It was a wonderful, wonderful game of hurling," said Liam Sheedy, the Tipperary manager, who was able to stand back afterwards and admire the brilliant, combustible spectacle the rival teams had produced.
“It was a game of two halves. Unfortunately we lost the second half emphatically, and when Limerick came at us, they were well on top.”
In Ulster, a brilliant football championship continued in equatorial conditions. On a baking Saturday afternoon, Armagh and Monaghan served up an unabridged classic. From the beginning, it was a cavalier and even reckless refutation of all the old Ulster football tropes of caginess and house-minding. This was a scoring barrage from both sides, with Armagh shipping four first-half goals to Monaghan, almost winning the game with two late goals of their own only to fall to the oldest Monaghan trait: resilience. It finished 4-17 to 2-21.
But it was a sublime day framed by the blackest shadow for Monaghan as the county absorbed the tragic death of Brendan Óg Duffy, the young Harps player who was killed in a car crash on his way home on Friday evening after captaining the county under-20 team to victory over Donegal. It was clear in the aftermath of the match that senior manager Seamus McEnaney was struggling to absorb both that tragedy and the death of Philip Traynor, who emigrated to New York in 1984 and built a company capable of providing the main sponsorship for the county team over the past few seasons.
"I didn't even wake up. I got the news at half-past one. My over-riding emotion is sadness, devastating. I build up a special relationship with Ogie Duffy, he was my captain on the minor team when we won the Ulster championship in 2018. He is a great young fella and had a great future ahead of him in that dressing room. I'm devastated for his family. Football will move on but his family will never be the same again. And we lost our main sponsor, Philip Traynor, in America. He was a sponsor, a supporter and one of my best friends. We have had a very tough week, very difficult. We didn't use this as a motivation in any shape or form. We talked about it and said we would park the emotions and the feelings of last night until after today and we will deal with them this evening. We had to play extremely well because we knew Armagh would put us to the pin of our collar."
In the Sunday semi-final, Tyrone broke clear of Donegal on another baking afternoon. Michael Murphy’s miserable summer was compounded when he missed a first-half penalty and was then sent off in the 33rd minute. Donegal stayed in touch but Tyrone cantered to the win with a late burst of scores to mark the Logan/Dooher era with an Ulster final appearance. It’s the first Monaghan-Tyrone Ulster final in 11 years.
The crowded weekend continued: All-Ireland football champions Dublin closed in on 11 Leinster titles in a row with a 2-16 to 1-13 win over Meath. They will play Kildare, who beat Westmeath on Sunday, in the provincial decider. On Saturday, Clare won the latest fiercely contested tussle with the Wexford hurlers as Davy Fitzgerald’s side crashed out. And the Kilkenny hurlers claimed the Leinster hurling championship relatively comfortably after Dublin’s plans were derailed by late Covid-positive results to four of their players. It was a reminder of the darkening picture of the pandemic summer – and of the ongoing contribution of the best players in Gaelic games.