Monday, June 11, 2007

Limerick's Survival A Victory

Possibly the only thing that generates as much sweat and effort on a Munster hurling championship day as the action on the field is the construction of teetering towers of lofty prose about it in the press box.

Vincent Hogan, in this morning's Irish Independent, topped and tailed his piece like so: "It was a game from the old liturgy of Munster hurling, a bullfight in parts, a rolling symphony in spoke of an unbreakable truth about Munster and the old game. In the business of epoch and fury, all else is imitation." Crikey!

Tom Humphries was more circumspect in the Irish Times, but did feel that the replay would be an occsion for those "with an interest in hurling and romance". I think I need to lie down!

In fairness to the palpitating scribes, it's easy to see why a certain type of Munster hurling afternoon will send quills a-quiver. For all that, in advance, yesterday's meeting of Limerick and Tipperary looked the plain, bespectacled sister semi-final of next week's ravishing beauty between Cork and Waterford, God bless her, she went like the clappers nonetheless.

A sunny day, the Gaelic Grounds looking well for the big crowd and the weather, and two teams skelping the arses off each other. Hand me my thesaurus!

Despite the heroism of their performance yesterday, for Limerick the six year wait for a Munster Championship victory goes on, an extraordinary fact considering that in 2001, the occasion of their last victory (over Waterford in the provincial semi-final), the county was also in the midst of its three-in-a-row of All-Ireland Under-21 titles. Waiting forlornly for that group to fulfil their potential is par for the disappointing course for Limerick hurling.

The 1990s are now viewed as a golden age for the game in general, a time of revolution and egalitarianism. It might also be looked, less romantically, as a hiatus, in which normal service was halted, and all the decent hurling folk in Ireland got at least one close up fling with the Liam McCarthy Cup, before the clouds rolled back and it was snatched away towards the Nore and the Lee.

All the decent hurling folk except Limerick, of course, whose losses to Offaly (heartbreakingly) in 1994 and to Wexford in 1996 mark them down as the game's Miss Havishams, left at the altar, seemingly doomed to a lifetime of trophyless spinsterhood.

Indeed, the thought of an All-Ireland now is laughable, and after those six grim years the annual traipse out to the various Championship venues must have been getting all the more despairing. Yesterday's match seemed to be going the way of so many of their previous losses: they toiled bravely and manfully but looked like being those handful of points shy once again.

Only in 2002, when Tipp beat them by seven, did they lose by more than four points on any of those previous occasions. Coming down the home stretch, when their opponents held off each of their advances with a couple of businesslike of points of their own, a familiar sinking feeling might have gathered in Limerick hearts, that they were destined to always be that bit short.

The celebrations on the final whistle were those of a victory, which is a little worrying given that they are still no closer to that first win since 2001 than they were yesterday morning. But the delight was relief as much as anything, that, by pulling out a goal at the death, they had deservedly cheated their seemingly preordained fate for another week.

That's a victory in itself; for the the counties with no chance of winning the All-Ireland, each week that you are still in the running, each week that the flags still fly outside houses and pubs and local radio stations buzz with big match chatter, each of those is as good as a win.

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