It’s probably unfortunate for the province’s challengers that Kilkenny are so sharp, so focused and so consistently dominant, but it was also reasonable to have expected more from Wexford. The ranks of the disillusioned who left the stadium at half time, by which stage Kilkenny were 11 points to the good, didn’t miss anything.
“They weren’t happy and I apologize to them,” said a disarmingly honest Wexford manager, John Meyler. “They voted with their feet, they weren’t happy and we apologize. It wasn’t good enough. We’ve said we won’t accept it.”
The eventual winning margin was 15 points (2-24 to 1-12), add that to Kilkenny’s 14-point stroll against Offaly in the semi-final, and the provincial bragging rights appear to have little or no value. Certainly, there was no euphoria among the Kilkenny players, hardly a sign of celebration as they registered what has now become an almost routine success.
“I suppose it wasn’t as competitive as we’d expected,” explained Kilkenny’s Brian Cody. “We were expecting a massively competitive game. You couldn’t say it was massively competitive. I’d be telling lies if I did.”
This latest embarrassment for Leinster hurling is symptomatic of a greater malaise. With the Connacht championship no longer played for, and with Ulster’s best still struggling to make an impression, Munster is the only provincial championship which currently has the necessary competitive edge.
Galway recently turned down an invitation to go into the Leinster draw, but they should now be instructed to cross the Shannon in search of some meaningful games. In fact, with the gradual loss of intensity and quality – Ulster in fairness possess the former, but lack the latter – there is an argument that the provincial championships should be scrapped in favor of a single All Ireland championship.
As Wexford and Offaly continue to falter in Kilkenny’s long shadow, there might be some light ahead in the form of the Dublin minor team which captured the Leinster minor title with a convincing seven-point win over Kilkenny at Croke Park.
For so many years hurling’s sleeping giant, this was Dublin’s second minor win in three seasons, and they have also reached the Leinster under 21 decider. With the numbers and the resources to make a difference, Dublin are only in need of some self-belief in order to challenge Kilkenny at senior level.
That intangible was certainly in short supply last Sunday when Wexford conceded two early goals to the impressive Willie O’Dwyer, and effectively threw in the towel. Inspired as ever by the irrepressible Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny were able to toy with the opposition without ever having to be anywhere near their best.
“Maybe it’s my management, maybe I’m not up to it,” said a dejected Meyler. “Something, I don’t know. When you play a game like that you look at yourself and look inside yourself and say, ‘Is it me? Is it me?'”
It wasn’t you John. It wasn’t you. It was Kilkenny’s sheer excellence, and your players’ resignation. Now get your head around that before the quarter-final in just over two weeks time.
Cork down but not out
THE rivalry between the two counties defines football in Munster. Last year, Cork won after a replay and Kerry were smarting so much that they changed their team, unleashed Kieran Donaghy and rumbled to an All Ireland success exacting some revenge over Cork along the way.
This summer, Kerry are favorites in most parts of Ireland – no matter what Tyrone and Dublin might say – to retain their title. And in the meantime, Cork have matured under the stewardship of the wily old fox, Billy Morgan, who has spent much of his career as player and coach trying to get the better of his neighbours from the Kingdom.
So, last Sunday’s final in Killarney was always going to whet the appetite, and if Kerry came through by the slender margin of 1-15 to 1-13, there was more than enough evidence that both teams could well have a say in the destiny of the Sam Maguire Cup later in the season.
In fact, even if they were disconsolate as Donaghy and substitute Sean O’Sullivan killed off the game with fine points in the closing seconds, Cork will head into the qualifiers with both their growing reputation and their pride intact.
Not surprisingly, they didn’t display as much savvy as their opponents, however, by coming back from six points down in the second half, they showed that they now have the sort of resilience necessary to win close contests like these.
If they failed to exploit the 6’7″ presence of full forward, Michael Cussen, when playing with the wind before the interval, their towering addition is likely to make an impact not dissimilar to Donaghy’s last year. Cussen clearly has the physical attributes, but he also has a football brain and when Morgan moved him back to midfield as an antidote to Darragh O Se later in the game, he acquitted himself well.
There was a chance that Morgan and his players could have been celebrating a second Munster crown in a row when, with the scores level, Derek Kavanagh broke through on goal, but sliced his shot wide as Tomas O Se tugged at his jersey. Cork appealed for what looked like a clear penalty, but had their claims waved away by the unsighted referee.
That was just the sort of reprieve that Pat O’Shea, in his first season as Kerry boss, needed. His team had the edge, but could so easily have lost it. Commenting on Kavanagh’s squandered chance, he said that it “would have to go down as a bad miss than good defending by us”.
As for Cork selector, John Corcoran, he wanted to praise the team’s staying power: “The game is never gone with this bunch of players. What they have in abundance is heart and spirit, and they showed it out there.”
Asked about the qualifiers, Corcoran simply suggested that Cork and Kerry could well meet again before the year was out. No one was arguing.
All roads lead to K Club
BIG-TIME tournament golf returns to the K Club this week less than a year after the Ryder Cup matches, yet it’s as if that memorable showdown between Europe and America in County Kildare has turned everything that follows into something of an anti-climax.
The Irish Open in May only featured two players in the world’s top-50, and if the setting and the facilities at Adare Manor were first class, Padraig Harrington’s home victory saved the event from death by dreadful weather and disinterest.
If the field is better for the European Open – eight from the world’s top-50 this time – and if the prize fund of