This has easily been the best championship since the introduction of the backdoor in 1997. There are ten teams left in the championship and at least nine of those counties can harbor genuine, if somewhat fanciful, aspirations of All Ireland glory. The romanticism of the 90’s is back in hurling and the summer is only getting started…
As Dublin rolled along in front of Kilkenny, the big story of the weekend looked like it was unfolding in Wexford Park, where Carlow gave the home team, the scare of their lives. They may have failed to land the scalp, but they have announced their arrival on the scene as a genuine hurling county and have undoubtedly leapfrogged Antrim in the hurling hierarchy.
Dublin have been knocking on the door since Daly took charge in 2008 and have threatened such a conquest in the past. You forget Liam Rushe is only 23, as he has been around for a few years and can be the lynchpin of this team, for many more. He was outstanding against Kilkenny under the high ball and led the Dublin backs, who to their credit passed the ball intelligently and efficiently from back to front. For a third consecutive championship game the Kilkenny forward line failed to fire. They have now scored just one goal in 210 minutes of championship hurling. They had just three scorers from play again this week, totalling a miserable five points between them. Absolutely incredible statistics! Shefflin may have won the All Ireland by himself last year, but the price seems to be a forward line completely devoid of belief, in his absence. A fifth weekend of hurling in a row will be a minor inconvenience, as Dublin will be buzzing after that win and momentum is on their side, with Dotsy O’ Callaghan looking back to his best and plenty of ammunition on the bench.
If you had said after Laois rattled Galway, that The Shannonsiders would be favourites for the All Ireland before the Leinster Final you’d have been locked up. But with Limerick upsetting Tipperary & The Cats faltering to Dublin, they are in pole position with the bookies, almost by default. Galway have often wilted under the faintest sense of expectation, but just like their neighbours Mayo, in football, this current team seems to be made of sterner stuff.
There will have been supporters the length and breadth of the country convincing themselves that ‘this is our year’, after the Dublin heroics blew the championship wide open. JBM will have been delighted with the Kilkenny/ Tipp draw, knowing that one of the big three will be gone before the Munster Final. His 1999 winning team were almost as unheralded as his current side and he’ll have visions of a repeat, with no county yet to truly stamp their mark on the championship. The result yesterday places an even greater emphasis on the provincial finals, with a lucrative quarter final bye, the cherry on top of any silverware. It looks like there’s only the toss of a coin between the four sides involved and amazingly John Allen’s men may come in under the radar with all the recent talk centring on The Rebels.
Waterford can sit back, following an eventually comfortable afternoons work against Westmeath and await the results of the second round of the qualifiers. Laois served notice of their ability in the Leinster semi final and might find it harder to ambush The Banner next week, as a result. But the Carlow performance this weekend suggests Laois’ display against Galway was no fluke. What Michael Ryan would give to be able to call on John Mullane. The nature of the championship so far, must surely have the De la Salle man questioning his decision to retire, at least on some level. I wonder will there be a renewed effort to coax the marksman out of retirement?