THERE ARE CERTAIN fixtures that resonate for everyone — and there are some that have an importance borne of personal experience.
For instance the first Munster hurling game I ever attended was Limerick against Cork in 1994 in a downpour in the Gaelic Grounds. For some reason passing understanding, my parents, my uncle Noel and I traveled down, but it was a mini-classic, which Limerick won 4-14 to 4-11. As a result I still carry a flame for Frankie Carroll, the Omar Sharif of the Mid-West.
But Cork-Waterford is also a very special occasion for me. I was at the Munster final in 2003 with my Dad, a proud Waterford man, and it was my first experience of that fabled day in Thurles. We had missed their breakthrough Munster win in 2002 because we were watching Galway retain their Connacht football title against Sligo in Castlebar (the World Cup final in Japan was also on that day and I watched it all on a four-inch portable TV screen — suffice to say I failed to engage fully with events in Yokohama as a result).
The 2003 Munster final will go down either as the day of Setanta’s goal, or the day of Mullane’s hat-trick, depending on your outlook. But that wasn’t my first experience of games between these two either, because I was also there in 1999 when Mickey O’Connell scored eight points from midfield and a youthful Cork team under Jimmy Barry Murphy shocked Waterford.
I was in Thurles that day with my uncle and broadcasting legend Jim Carney while he commentated on the game for RTÉ. I was to do some stats for him, counting wides and such things, but I remember Jim saying to me as I got in the car that he had a bit of a sore throat, and that if it wasn’t too much bother, he might try and stay quiet for the duration of the trip down. That was fine with me; I was just glad of the chance to help out. Cue 90 seconds of polite silence, followed by a two-hour discussion on Cork hurling, Tom Waits, Louis McNiece, Martin ‘Hopper’ McGrath, Allen Ginsberg (who Jim once shared a bottle of vodka with!), and the Tao of Fr Michael O’Brien.
Watching the game from the gantry with Jim that day gave me a full appreciation of just how fiendishly difficult commentating is. It’s not something I think I’d ever try and do, and we’re very lucky indeed in Newstalk to have Dave McIntyre, who I think is one of the very best in the business.
When a game is in the melting pot in the last 10 minutes, there’s no more testing sport than hurling for a commentator, and so it was last Sunday, with the Cork Waterford game ending in a welter of excitement. Cork’s injection of youth off the bench, and the experience in the last 20 minutes of Sean Óg, Tom Kenny and John Gardiner were the key factors, but it was massively disappointing for Waterford, who had twice gotten their noses in front after a terrible opening quarter.
Trip to Tipp
All-Ireland quarter-finals day in Thurles is fast becoming one of the highlights of the GAA calendar. Four teams, everything to lose, and a brilliant atmosphere. And it provides a few rather strange vignettes. The Kilkenny team came out to watch the second half of the Cork-Waterford game, and so they were all gathered behind me, trying to peer over my umbrella in the tunnel leading out onto the pitch. At one stage John Gardiner had to run back into the Cork dressingroom to get something before his second-half introduction and there they all were — his bitter foes for the last 10 years or more of his career, watching his team perhaps on the verge of going out of the championship. Plenty of respect there, but a world of stuff unsaid too I’m sure.
No such history exists between Sligo and Kildare in the football championship, and more’s the pity, judging by the rather toothless display we saw from Sligo on Saturday evening in Roscommon in our Saturday live game. Kildare were good, better than they needed to be as it turned out, but Sligo were just so disappointing. I really expected them to tear into Kildare, similar to Limerick’s display against them in the last round, but Sligo just never got going. They scored four points, and their only point from play came 90 seconds into injury time, and that really sums it all up.
Kildare now find themselves on one side of the most vicious of quarter-final draws. Last week’s prediction of an All-Ireland victory for Donegal is looking like even more foolish talk now when you think that they will have to beat Kerry, then Cork or Kildare, and then probably Dublin to win the All-Ireland. Certainly of the top five teams in the country, four of them are on one side of the draw, and that makes it a very favorable draw for the All-Ireland champions. But what odds a Mayo-Donegal final?!
- This Week Murph Was – amazed by the support shown for Kildare on Saturday evening in Roscommon. Every second car we passed on the motorway (and that was plenty – McIntyre drives FAST) had Lilywhite jerseys behind the wheel. They will do a very good job of filling Croke Park on their own next Sunday.