You can understand why the GAA stage the draws for the provincial championships so far in advance of the actual event. It’s the silly season for the GAA with inter-county coverage dominated by hacks writing about the injustices facing new managers who can’t get their squads together until January due to ban on assembling squads in November and December, then in the next paragraph bemoaning burnout. Getting the draw done early should give us something to talk about other than lurid tales of club teams beating the tar out of each other. And given it was a kind draw to Waterford – semi-final against Limerick, with Tipperary and Cork being drawn against each other in the lone quarter-final for the third year running – it should be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
Yet it has been hard to get too enthused. Part of that is down to the length of time until the match. A lot of water could pass under the bridge, particularly with Limerick energised by the arrival of Donal O’Grady. They’re probably more certain about the identity of their manager than we are. But the main reason is the increasing erosion in the authority and lustre of the Munster championship.
As a long-time advocate for the backdoor system (counties like us need the reassurance of having at least two championship matches a year if they’re going to put in the effort required to be competitive) and the Munster championships place in that system (counties like us need to know there is something for us to win other than the Manichean vision of Liam-McCarthy-or-bust), I can defend the current dispensation with a straight face. But watching the draw, the feeling that we were watching the first shots in a phony war was overwhelming. Up until 2010, neither the hurling or the football All-Ireland had been won through the backdoor by a team – a ‘team’ in this instance consisting of a group of players – that had not won the All-Ireland by the more conventional method. You could again argue with a straight face that to win it that way you had to win it the hard way first.
Such logic fell apart this year, especially in the football where not one of the semi-finalists could boast a Celtic cross between them. Indeed, it seems Down had not a single Ulster medal winner or even a former or current All Star in their ranks. And then there’s Tipperary, pointedly asking what our Munster championship is worth now. The answer is that it’s still worth something to a county so starved of success for so ling. Tell me that the cavorting around in the rain on that Saturday evening in Thurles wasn’t worth, and I ‘ll tell you you are wrong. Still, watching the draw last Thursday, there wasa distinct absence of blood flowing. What we saw was only the tip of the iceberg. How long we can go on ignoring that which is below the waterline, only time will tell.