Tipperary and Waterford suffer short-summer syndrome as round-robin bites
Two of last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists bow out of championship in early June
Clare’s Patrick O’Connor and Tipp’s Séamus Callanan after the final whistle. Photograph: Ray McManus/Sportsfile via Getty Images
The cull has begun in earnest. A hurling summer that has pulsed with possibilities for such a wide and varied field of contenders is starting to find reality’s scythe coming in at its knees. If we always guessed that Leinster would figure itself into a three-horse race before the final round of games, few were predicting even yesterday morning that Munster would do likewise. And certainly not so quickly.
But wins for Clare over Tipperary and Limerick over Waterford yesterday mean the only remaining mystery for next weekend is the final order of the top three. Clare and Limerick meet in a de facto Munster semi-final next. Limerick only need a draw to make it through. For Tipp and Waterford, the summer is over in the second week of June. Waterford have to go back to 2001 for the last time they were out of the championship this early. For Tipp, you need to go back to 1999.
The immediacy of it is a little bracing, it must be said. The Munster Championship has been such an enjoyable party, it almost seems rude to ask anyone to leave this early. But bouncers don’t get paid for their delicate manner and so both of them were marched out into the street and left there with instructions not to come back until 2019.
For Tipp, the margins were impossibly minuscule. They led Clare by eight points in the first half and by two in the dying minutes. Had they held out for the win, they’d have given themselves a shot at hanging on for third place in Munster and would most likely be second favourites or thereabouts for Liam MacCarthy this morning. As it was, Podge Collins and Peter Duggan chiselled out the winning scores for Clare and Tipp were out, losing a thunderous encounter by 1-23 to 1-21.
“I’m gutted for us,” said their manager Mick Ryan afterwards. “We tried everything we could to get something out of today – we knew how high the stakes were. We had to get something out of today or our season was done and that’s what happened. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen for us and it was very, very close. It was a fantastic game of hurling, exceptionally well played by both sides. I couldn’t be prouder of our fellas – they were absolutely outstanding and we got to a performance level that anyone would be happy with. But so too did Clare.
“What will bother us and keep us awake at night is that level of performance which was elusive. We found it today but we didn’t get anything out of the game. If we had found that level of performance [in the other games], we may have taken something out of this championship. It’s not our lot. Our lot is that we are one of the two that won’t go forward.
“There are loads of games where you don’t play well and results don’t go your way but we played well today and it still didn’t go with us. We didn’t do anything wrong. It’s too soon to say why it didn’t come together for us. The first thing I’d do is credit all the teams we played against. Munster is a brilliant province. All five teams are equal, capable of beating each other on a given day. There is no weak team in Munster. Maybe that sounds a bit rich of me saying that after being knocked out, but I’d still hold that view.”
Waterford do at least have another game next weekend. It may very well be Derek McGrath’s final game in charge; it’s almost certainly Michael “Brick” Walsh’s last dance. Maybe those twin factors will be enough to squeeze a performance out of them, but on the evidence of yesterday and a game where Limerick blitzed them to the tune of 2-26 to 1-16, it’s hard to see it.
“They are devastated,” McGrath said of his players afterwards. “They obviously know the implications of the defeat. The championship is over. We are just trying to as best we can – not to park it, it’s very hard to park it – but just to talk about the integrity of the competition next week and just seeing it out in terms of how we approach next week and the seriousness of it.
“Albeit it sounds contradictory to say there is nothing at stake. There’s pride, there’s Michael’s record championship appearance – 74 next week. So there are things like that we can kind of hone in on from an individual perspective and maybe a restoration of pride based on just being blown away today.”
But the championship rolls on. Limerick continue to be an adornment to it, with Cian Lynch adding another pearl to his necklace of fine performances this summer and Shane Dowling seeing his first action and totting up an impressive 0-15 along the way. John Kiely’s team are top of the Munster table this morning.
As you might expect, he is a fan of the new system. “I am. You take a few days in between the games and you get on with it. For us, we needed something different to snap us out of that old championship. We weren’t maybe thriving in it. Maybe, that would have happened for us this year, no matter what the format. It has definitely suited us. We want the people of Limerick to be very proud of this team and they should be and they are.
“We are just taking it week by week. We are enjoying each week, as well. This is all to be enjoyed. It is very important that management, players and everybody else enjoys this. We have had enough of difficult days, so let us enjoy the good days.”
So say we all.