For the second year in a row, the hurling semifinal weekend served up hurling on the most epic scale we could imagine. Inevitably, because we're human, we started wondering which of the five All-Ireland hurling semfinals was the best. It's an impossible task. It's like lining up Ben Bulben beside Carrigtohill beside Croagh Patrick beside the Sugarloaf beside Mount Errigal and trying to determine which mountain is the best mountain. If you spent a few days climbing each one and studying drone footage, you might be able to objectively say that Mount Errigal is better than the Sugarloaf, but ranking them objectively from #1 to #5 is beyond the capacities of the working human mind. There's just too much mountain to consider. It's the same with the hurling semifinals of the past two years. It's the same with all the semi-final hurling.
There are so many variables, so much drama and so much sheer madness that you could never definitively declare what the absolute correct order is. These are just one man's rankings. (I value fistpumps and crazy managers more than the average hurling fan) I can't say they're right but it's what my gut tells me when I think back. Every truly epic game of hurling should contain some balance of incredible skill, raw passion and bewildering controversy. On the Three Man Weave this week, the lads discussed their rankings (they are very high on Limerick v Kilkenny).
Listen to the pod below and let us know your own rankings.
5. Clare v Galway II 2018
Incredible moments of skill: the Shane O’Donnell goal, the Johnny Glynn goal
RAW moments of PASSIONATE HURLING: Peter Duggan’s goal
Barstool controversy: The O’Donnell goal was great but lord all the steps he took
Verdict: A undeniably thrilling match but one hampered by the fact that both counties were playing on seven days rest after a summer that had already been quite gruelling. Clare again erased a huge deficit and a victory almost felt inevitable, until Aron Shanagher missed twice from five feet. Cool-headed freetaking from Joe Canning ultimately saw Galway over the line. Thurles was heaving and even if the match was uneven, this would have been a game of the season contender in any other season.
4. Limerick v Kilkenny 2019
Incredible moments of skill: the Shane Dowling tennis goal, every TJ Reid touch
RAW moments of PASSIONATE HURLING: the entire first 15 minutes, all six Kilkenny forwards harrying a pack late on.
Barstool controversy: A 50/50 penalty that gave Limerick life, Gillane stepping over the 21 metre to take the penalty, a batted sideline cut with the last puck of the game that should have been a 65.
Verdict: A great game of hurling. It was like a very good action movie, with a thrilling, unexpected first act, important plot building in Act Two and legitimate drama to end things. This one is slightly cheapened for me by two things 1) Kilkenny's win and 2) the gnawing feeling that Limerick didn't turn up for the first 15 minutes. No disrespect to Cody et al but a Kilkenny win, even one as unlikely as this win over Limerick, is lessened because of all of the other Kilkenny wins we've watched since the game was invented.
3. Clare v Galway I 2018
Incredible moments of skill: the Peter Duggan point, Canning’s two sideline cuts, Aron Shanagher’s goal with his first touch in 9 months
RAW moments of PASSIONATE HURLING: all of the hurling that happened during the hail storm, Galway’s comeback without Canning, Jason McCarthy’s 92nd minute equaliser
Barstool controversy: Galway had a potential late winner ruled out by Hawkeye
This match feels less epic in hindsight because no one won and Galway lost the All-Ireland final. But if you stacked up all of the incidents on top of each other, it's arguably the most event-filled match of this century. The match was level 9 times. Four seasons occurred within 90 minutes. Peter Duggan scored the greatest point of all time. Croke Park saw its first 92nd minute equaliser.
Case in point, the highlights video on this match is 17 minutes long.
2. Wexford vs Tipperary 2019
Incredible moments of skill: the Callanan goal, Lee Chin flicking soloing and flicking over Paudie Maher, the Jake Morris point
RAW moments of PASSIONATE HURLING: Liam Ryan barreling over John McGrath, Liam Sheedy’s WOOOO at fulltime, Davy's dejection
Barstool controversy: Frankly, an absurd amount.
This is pure recency bias on my part. This is the last match of hurling I saw, and the last match you see often feels like the most important one. Yes, by the end Wexford looked tired and broken, but in the 73rd minute, they trailed by just one and Lee Chin was positioning himself under a high ball. Who knows what happens if he catches that ball? Wexford's support and the PASSION of the two managers push this very high up my rankings. Tipp hurling people speak of this as one of the greatest wins of their lifetimes, and my hunch - and it is only a hunch - is that game will take on an importance like the #1 match on this last, after the All-Ireland.
1. Limerick v Cork 2018
Incredible moments of skill: the Gillane kicked point, the Lehane dagger, the Lehane point from the sideline, the Quaid save, the Horgan free to send the match the extra time, the Pat Ryan lob
RAW moments of HURLING: the Shane Dowling penalty, the Shane Dowling KNEES-UP celebration
Barstool controversy: Very little
More than a hurling match, this was 90 minutes that altered the course of the game. It's rare for the Hurling Gods to change their minds on two teams midstream, but it was that kind of match. A compelling match despite the conditions for 60+ minutes, Cork v Limerick took on another life after Nickie Quaid's inexplicable save on Harnedy. As Cork flexed their muscles, we seemed bound for a reality where Cork were All-Ireland champions and Limerick's spell in the wilderness would continue. But then Limerick exploded to life. Three weeks later they were All-Ireland champions. You could see it written all over John Meyler's face that day. It was all in Cork's hands, and it slipped. You don't get given second chances like that.