Cork, the reigning champions, didn’t exactly burn up Semple Stadium as they struggled to see off a defiant Limerick who played with impressive desire during the second half. But Cork, who are going for three titles in a row, reached into their well of big-match experience and picked off the vital points at the end.
Kilkenny, all efficiency and determination, were on a mission to exact some retribution from last year’s defeat by Galway. They lost Derek Lyng who was shown a second yellow card and still battled their way to a five-point victory.
Manager Brian Cody wasn’t best pleased when he was asked by a reporter if the key to the match was Kilkenny’s flashes of brilliance or Galway’s maddening inconsistency. “No idea — it’s not my job to figure that out. It’s yours, so I don’t know.” The questions kept coming about how his team hadn’t fired on all cylinders, and now Cody was bulling.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I’d hate to have you lot managing the team. You’ve some high bloody standards. How many of you ever hurled? Do you know what it’s like out there? It’s tough out there, and I thought there was a lot of fabulous hurling.”
The mood was much less adversarial both on and off Croke Park as Clare swept dismal Wexford aside. A number of injuries to important players had to be factored into the equation, but Wexford were a bit of a shambles as Clare sauntered through much of the second half as if they were out for a gentle training session.
So, it was business as usual until Waterford came out onto Croke Park and collided with Tipperary in what was a sparkling contest. With Dan Shanahan and Ken McGrath leading the way, it was a day of some redemption for manager Justin McCarthy whose Waterford days appeared to be numbered.
His players fully deserved another shot at All Ireland glory and will now take on Cork in the semi-finals with Kilkenny scheduled to meet Clare.
So four counties left standing after a weekend when nearly all the GAA talk was on the big guns of hurling. But then there was news from the Christy Ring Cup, a competition aimed at the second tier of counties. Antrim had not surprisingly seen off Kildare in one semi-final, but Carlow had beaten Down against all the odds in the other game.
With the sport rightly criticised for its dependency on a few elite counties, this unexpected triumph shone like a beacon. Carlow’s reward is a final at Croke Park, a place where their hurlers have been about as common as flying pigs.
Most Ryder probables
off pace in British Open
With the hype that surrounds the Ryder Cup, you might be forgiven for thinking that world golf is really a distillation of American and European golf. The other countries, despite producing their share of champions, are often regarded as outposts of the game.
Following Tiger Woods’s emotionally charged and surgically precise British Open victory last weekend, it was a worthwhile exercise to run the rule over the next 20 players who trailed in the world number one’s wake.
There were four Americans and five Europeans in the group, and if admittedly that makes up almost 50 per cent of the also-rans, just three of those players – Chris DiMarco, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia – are likely to figure at the Ryder Cup in Ireland in September.
And of those three, DiMarco was the only one who ever looked like threatening Woods’s supremacy. Furyk was solid but extremely unspectacular, while the underwhelming Garcia started the final round one shot behind the winner and wound up seven behind. Enough said.
The other two Americans were Ben Crane and Sean O’Hair, not exactly household names, and the remaining four Europeans were made up of two relatively unknown Scandinavians, and two even lesser known English players in Robert Rock and Anthony Wall.
On the American front, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, Chad Campbell, Fred Couples and Stewart Cink were all off the pace to varying degrees, while European stalwarts such as Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Luke Donald, Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and David Howell were never in contention.
In fact, the other 11 places in that top 20 were filled by five Aussies, two South Africans – Ernie Els and Retief Goosen – two Argentines, one Japanese and one Korean. So much for the Euro-American hegemony.
If Darren Clarke, who has quit tournament golf for the moment to be with his seriously-ill wife Heather, is an exceptional case, there was no joy for the Irish at Hoylake either. The biggest disappointment of all was Padraig Harrington’s anaemic performance, which saw him miss the cut by a wide margin, and while Paul McGinley performed marginally better, he, too, failed to last until the weekend.
For Graeme McDowell, formerly of Portrush and the University of Alabama, there was the exultation of leading the championship at the end of the first day, and the eventual frustration of finishing a full 20 shots behind Tiger. If he found the experience of seeing his name at the top of the leaderboard had a detrimental effect, the highly promising McDowell was undone by some very poor putting.
With the British and Irish contingent in the doldrums, it was left to Garcia to fly the European flag. After a superb 65 in the third round, it seemed at last as if he had the confidence to hunt Woods down, but what followed was a token effort littered with putting errors.
It was another depressing reminder that no European player has won a major championship since Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open.
Apart from the brilliance of Woods and the tenacity of DiMarco, America didn’t cover itself in glory at Hoylake, but for Europe, the benefits of Ryder Cup success have yet to transfer themselves to the purely individual pursuit of major titles.
Has Duff made the right move?
Ireland’s participation at the 2002 World Cup is remembered most of all for Roy Keane’s bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy, but amid the controversies and the recriminations off the pitch, one player stood out when the team actually got down to doing what players are really supposed to do.
It was a good tournament for Damien Duff, who started out as a skilful, promising winger, and come home from Japan and Korea with world-class credentials. It was no great surprise, then, that when Chelsea found their coffers suddenly swollen by the club’s new billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, Duff was on the shopping list.
And for the most part, his move was a success. Although Abramovich’s hired gun, Jose Mourinho, never felt disposed to guarantee Duff a place in Chelsea’s starting line-up – that was the preserve of the few such as John Terry, Petr Cech and Frank Lampard – the Dubliner played a prominent part in Chelsea’s two Premiership titles.
But with Abramovich set on winning Europe’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League, Mourinho has been mandated to strengthen his squad even further. In came the emerging Ghanaian midfielder, Michael Essien, and in recent weeks he was followed by a couple of soccer’s biggest names in Andriy Shevchenko of the Ukraine and Germany’s best player, Michael Ballack.
Where once Mourinho talked of having two top-class players for every position, he was now suggesting that he probably only needed 16 to maintain Chelsea’s place at the top of the English game and to challenge for honors in Europe. Duff wondered about his ranking in this new order, and he was told that he wouldn’t be part of the club’s sweet 16.
Equally, if he wanted to stay, he would have to take a pay cut. With the prospects of even fewer appearances in the first team, and less cash in his pocket, Duff wanted out and Chelsea were happy enough to let him go. The first suitors were Tottenham Hotspur, another London club which was coming out of a bleak period under its authoritative manager Martin Jol. It seemed like the best move for Duff. An experienced, highly talented player in an emerging side.
But instead, he decided to sign for Newcastle who apparently have guaranteed him a place in the first team. A soccer city through and through, but a club that has been treading water, and which looks like it will continue to tread water.
Could it have been that Duff followed the money, or could it have been that he was afraid he might not have been able to hold down a regular place with the bright young things of Tottenham such as Aaron Lennon?
At 27, Duff has no doubt secured his future, but now he will be part of a struggling Premiership club, and now he will have no exposure to the Champions League. A model professional and one of Ireland’s most consistent performers, Duff has never been guilty of letting down club or country.
But after signing for Newcastle for