GAA weekend that was: Austin Gleeson decision is crucial
Darragh Fives accomplished in Tadhg De Búrca absence, a summer to remember
Austin Gleeson was at his talismanic best as Waterford beat Cork to reach the All-Ireland SHC final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Austin Gleeson ruling will be cruicial
The outcome of the All-Ireland hurling final won’t be decided this week but the CCCC ruling on Austin Gleeson will play a crucial bearing either way. If the Mount Sion man doesn’t get to play, it would not only be an incalculable personal and family disappointment, it will rob Waterford of a talismanic figure.
Waterford had several splendid performers in Sunday’s hard-headed win over Cork but consider the luminosity of Gleeson’s achievement in just one five minute spell. The game had been level on eight occasions when the sending-off of Cork’s Damien Cahalane gave Waterford numerical advantage. Gleeson got the next score for Waterford, a long-range point in the 53rd minute. Four minutes later, Cork were still well in the hunt with a 0-18 to 1-13 lead when Gleeson chased down Cork’s Christopher Joyce, who was seeking to clear the ball.
Joyce turned and looked to outpace Gleeson but had the ball robbed with a neat flick and by the time he recovered, Gleeson had the ball in his hand and was already beginning his flat, squared pass across the Cork goal to where Jamie Barron was waiting. Goal.
Then, in the 59th minute, Gleeson actually dropped an elementary hand-pass and wrong-footed two Cork defenders with the speed of his recovery. By then, he was on his way to scoring the famous weaving goal which secured Waterford’s passage to a first All-Ireland final since 2008.
All of that in five minutes: 2-1 created out of nothing particularly special. The replays of the incident in which Gleeson appears to pull Luke Meade’s helmet off his head will be scrutinised by all interested parties in the coming days. Maybe it can be successfully argued that the Waterford player was looking at the ball rather than his opponent during his seconds and maybe the fact that ball had gone dead can be entered as a mitigating factor.
But the next few days will be nerve-wracking for Gleeson and Waterford. Trying to win an All-Ireland final is difficult enough with the reigning Hurler of the Year in your ranks. Trying to achieve that with him as a reluctant spectator is an entirely different level of difficulty.
If the bookmakers’ judgment is to be trusted, Waterford hopes could soar: they are offering odds of 1 / 2 of Gleeson being available for the final and 6/4 of him missing out through suspension.
Waterford and Fives show the system works
The ‘system’ works. Waterford made light of the absence of Tadhg De Búrca, unavailable for Sunday’s semi-final after receiving a straight red card for pulling at Harry Kehoe’s face guard.
Derek McGrath’s improvisation of an extra-defender, playing a covering or sweeping role, has had its share of criticism. But even without de Búrca, whose understanding of the sweeper’s role has been central to Waterford’s resurgence under McGrath, the team purred on Sunday.
McGrath said before the match that de Búrca’s absence would be critical and had his number five printed on his hand for Sunday’s match. And Waterford didn’t blink and Darragh Fives was so accomplished in the loose defensive role on Sunday that he has almost left McGrath with a dilemma.
It was clear that Waterford’s players know and trust the system and feel comfortable in it and their final score of 4-19 was the ultimate retort to the complaint that their defensive caution makes them a blunted attacking force.
Hurling keeps on reimagining itself
At the beginning of this year’s championship, Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Galway and Clare were the chief subjects of debate in likely All-Ireland winners.
Then Davy Fitzgerald and Wexford hijacked the competition through a combination of colour and talent. Then Kieran Kingston’s young Cork team were suddenly aflame and hurling with a confidence and self-expressiveness which delighted not just the Rebel county but custodians of hurling everywhere.
Kilkenny fell in July- a story in itself. Galway and Tipp played out the latest instalment of a rivalry that has all of the quality of the 1980s version but none of the rancour. And now the old game is left with Waterford or Galway for the big honour.
Apart from the fall of the house of Offaly, it has all been good news and future summers seem rich with possibility.