Antrim break 18-year losing streak
Munster miss out at Twickenham
Well the good ship Munster Rugby finally ran aground within touching distance of its destination. Their romantic sporting odyssey ended in defeat last Saturday in Twickenham, but their year has had so many breathtaking highs that even Saturday's European Cup Final defeat will not detract from the positives. This team captured the sporting imagination like no previous exponents of the oval ball game and their across the board appeal had much to do with the sporting ecumenism which is apparent in Limerick and other parts of the province. It should serve as a timely reminder to the `Blazer Brigade' of the IRFU that the only way forward for rugby nationally is to break out of its middle class `ghetto' and broaden the make up of its playing population.
Staying in the southern province but switching codes, we had Munster hurling championship action at the weekend. Saturday saw the meeting of Cork and Kerry (which I will return to later) and on Sunday, Pairc Uí Chaoímh was the setting for the eagerly awaited clash of Waterford and Tipperary. This was hurling's first big clash of the summer and most followers of the game were hoping the game would reach the breakneck tempo of Munster championship hurling in recent years. As it turned out, this was a tense, nervous affair and the young Tipperary side looked to their veteran campaigners of John Leahy and Michael Ryan to see them past Waterford's challenge.
Pride of place this week must go to the footballers of Antrim and in particular their long-suffering supporters
Tipperary will be rightly happy with their win, but they will have to improve the quality of their hurling and the accuracy of their forwards (who shot 18 wides) if they are to stand any chance of overcoming the might of Clare in the next round. Waterford now face almost nine months without any competitive hurling. This is a ridiculous situation when you consider the massive effort and dedication shown by their players all year in preparation for the championship. The argument for restructuring the nature of all of our provincial championships seems now to be the only way forward. If the organisation is serious about the development of our games, we cannot continue with this ludicrous system.
I previously mentioned the `championship' hurling fixture between Cork and Kerry. The grossly one-sided nature of this total mismatch rendered the fixture totally irrelevant and of absolutely no benefit to either side. For the record, Cork defeated Kerry by 2-32 to 0-4 and Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy summed up the feelings of his side after the game: ``Nobody takes pleasure in hammering a team like that; for us it was something to get over and be done with.'' The Kerry County Board should really consider if it is in the interest of the game in their county to expose their best hurlers to such unnecessary humiliation.
Notwithstanding Munster's heroic failure in Twickenham or the excitement created by Tipperary's win in Cork, pride of place this week must go to the footballers of Antrim and in particular their long-suffering supporters. If you don't know already, Antrim's 0-13 to 1-7 win over Down was their first Ulster Championship success in 18 years. Brian White's team have built on their All-Ireland B success this year and on Sunday recorded their historic and fully deserved win. The lack of championship success has been an albatross around the necks of the county's footballers. On several occasions they came close to breaking the hoodoo, most notably against the then All-Ireland Champions Donegal, when it took a brilliant goal from Tony Boyle to separate the teams. The duck has now been broken and hopefully their supporters can look forward to future championship outings with optimism instead of fatalism.
Last, but by no means least this week is the final fixture in the Leinster hurling championship round-robin competition. Dublin and Laois played out a thrilling 0-18 to 0-18 draw. The two teams now face each other in the replay, which will be their fourth championship outing this year. The benefits of this to both teams cannot be overestimated and is in stark contrast to the situation of the hapless Kerry hurlers in Munster.
Surely this experiment has shown the way forward and should be extended and improved upon for future championships. To do so will nurture hurling in the weaker counties and develop our best game in a greater spread of counties. Failure vto act imaginatively could sound the death knell for hurling in all but a few elite counties. As decisions go, it's hardly a tough one.