Tag Archives: Antrim

Football not-so-crazy

The footballers. I had high hopes for them this year and, alas, they have not been fulfilled. Maybe if they had been in contention for promotion I would have written a match report or taken a lot of photos of their game against Antrim last Sunday. Instead, I contented myself with watching the game and a series of lazy bullet points about the experience.

  • A-ha! You expected me to say that “if they had been in contention for promotion I would have stayed and watched them”. But I did stay and watch, so there. A blizzard of retweets on the Waterford GAA feed followed those who dared to leave, and it’s possible that the players were a bit deflated to see that. I’m not convinced though. They regularly play in front of a man and a dog, so the few hundred who did stay behind probably represented a bigger crowd than they are used to for a similar fixture. The players are, by definition, proper GAA men and they should be under no illusions. The 1,500 souls who turned out for the hurling game was in itself a relatively poor turnout. Had it been Kilkenny, you could have expected two to three times as many people, so the people who paid money for the first game are the committed few even before the football was thrown in. So let’s go easy on those who left. The kind of person who will sit for three-and-a-half hours to watch sport is a bit of a saddo and could do with the life that the people who left had to get back to.
  • The game was very good. My brother and I joked about how it was going to be difficult to watch the leaden pace of a football match after the high-octane extravaganza we had just seen. How wrong we were. It’s not just because the football game was a genuine competition compared to the turkey shoot that was the hurling. The football game was played in a good spirit and the shooting was of a high standard – I’m always impressed that anyone can get one of those cannonballs more than a few yards, and there were several top-notch scores with few awful misses. It was well worth staying for, which might better explain the frustration of those complaining about those who left. It would certainly make me more inclined to watch a football match in the future.
  • Despite the larger object, working out if it’s a score is trickier than it is in hurling. In the small ball game, the ball flies over the bar. In football, the shot will take all manner of apologetic wobbles as it heads towards the posts. I’m guessing it’s something that gets easier with experience. Like an lbw decision in cricket, you see enough of them to know that this one matches that one you saw before.
  • Has the blanket defence and/or “puke football” (ugh) changed the way football has been played, or has it always been this chess-like? I saw that in a non-pejorative sense, at times it was quite absorbing watching the game unfold. The game was effectively won and lost midway through the second half as Antrim reacted to a looser, more aggressive Waterford that came out after the break with a formation change of their own. Banks of Antrim players would move slowly up the field, picking their way through the holes and picking off the points. The game seemed to consist of the application of several gambits, and it was Antrim’s gambits which proved decisive in the end.
  • Of course, maybe it’s c) neither of these things. This was just one game. Watch more football before commenting, you insufferable windbag!
  • Whither Waterford? They are not whipping boys at this level. Despite my intimations that Antrim won it in the middle of the second half, Waterford could still have pinched their pocket with a late penalty when there were only three points in it, but Paul Whyte rolled the ball wide. Even then they had another chance but the ball went over the bar. To have a points difference of -8 after five games yet have only won one match seems statistically improbable, but that’s where Waterford stand. A lack of ruthlessness? Bad luck? Not good enough? The sample size is too small to tell, and the killer is that it might be all over before we ever find out. It all shows how hard it is to make progress. In the aftermath of another underage beatdown, I don’t envy the good folk of Waterford football the task which has been set for them.

Waterford 4-30 (42) Antrim 0-10 (10)

“Are you not entertained?” asked O’Maximus as another bloody limb went flying. “Is this not why you are here?” Well yes actually, we are entertained and this is why we are here. In defence of such Tipp-style beating down on the afflicted, we couldn’t be sure during this game whether we would need the points difference to be heavily in the credit column before the Wexford game this weekend. But that’s not much of a defence. It was enjoyable in itself watching Waterford whale on a team in what would prove to be our record-equalling victory in the National Hurling League. Coming next – dunking kittens into buckets and pulling the legs off spiders. Get your tickets early in SuperValu.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (19)

Not that many did that. Getting tickets early in SuperValu, that is. There was a small enough crowd at throw-in and even if it did swell a little after a few minutes, it does demonstrate the downside of Division 1B hurling that was referred to by the Limerick County Board chairman a few years back, i.e. it’s hard to get supporters and sponsors enthused when you can’t offer a game/games against the likes of Kilkenny, Cork or Tipperary. No offence to Antrim, I’m sure they feel the same way about us when we head up north, and besides: there will be plenty of offence to follow. Giveitfong seems to be of the opinion that the early stages did not suggest Antrim were about to be pulverised, and I’m loath to disagree with his smarter take on hurling. But I was pretty calm in the early stages and I’ve managed to lose my calm in the early stages against the likes of Derry and Down. Even early on there were little vignettes that suggested Waterford were a cut above Antrim. The ball sticking to a hand here, a deft flick of the wrist into space there. All the players on the field are well capable of acts of ingenuity, it’s doing it at speed that separates the men from the boys, and while there would be a blatant example of it later in the game to prove the point, the initial signs of Waterford’s extra craft were there.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (8)

That’s not to say that some of the old failings were not present. A few terrible wides were exasperating, and a mis-hit free by Pauric Mahony which went out for a 65 (subsequently missed) when he could have conceivably kicked the ball over the bar were enough to give to the heebie-jeebies. But the first goal was enough to banish the blues. A short puckout – even they all seemed to go right – to Shane Fives, a pass down the line to Colin Dunford, a streak past his marker, a deft ball into the middle and a thunderous finish from close range from Stephen Bennett. Lovely stuff, and not even a dozen Championship starts between the three of them. Dunford in particular looked the part in those early exchanges. Remember what I said above about pace? At one point he got the ball from a standing start and simply ran around his marker. He missed that chance to score, but immediately after the goal he took a point himself from the other corner, then set up Bennett again for another score to leave us 1-9 to 0-3 after just 25 minutes. The shooting at this stage was still a little ropey, and for all of his sterling winning of the ball it was a little concerning to see just how slow Michael Walsh was compared to those around him, but the backs were serving up so much ball that it scarcely seemed to matter. Kevin Moran was charging onto the ball with his usual Roman-taxi-driver spirit, while Tadgh de Burca was making it all look effortless, and even the introduction of a battering ram in Matthew Donnelly, the kind of overweight cult figure that Waterford used to specialise in, didn’t bother him one joy. A half time lead of eleven points did not flatter us.

Waterford flew out of the traps like Master McGrath in the second half. An early long range free from Mahony was followed up by a puckout where Antrim goalie Chris McConnell hit a delicate lob out to Stephen Bennett who gathered it and rammed it over the bar. An awful moment for O’Connell who had a good game otherwise, pulling off some decent saves. The sheer awfulness of what was in front him was demonstrated when Walsh hit a good chance wide, only to get the possession with the very next attack. You could see he was thinking “this one is going over the bar if I have to climb the post to do it”, and duly it went over with a little less fuss than that.

Time for Maurice Shanahan to make an appearance in place of his doppelganger Bennett  . . . the helmets really are a pain to identify players. You know something is wrong when you are confusing Bennett for Dunford . . . Maurice is that strange player who looks invincible in League hurling but, while more than adequate, can’t make the step-up in the summer that his big brother made. He has talent to burn but the lack of pace is always going to be a problem. Still, I confidently predicted as he trotted on that this would be a setting in which to fill his boots. Since I rarely make predictions because I don’t know what I’m talking about, I think I’m to retire after this one as Shanahan went nap.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (13)

But not before we saw the way things used to be in Waterford hurling as a fine Antrim move ended with the ball dropping at the feet of cult hero Donnelly who had time and space to pick the ball up and bury it. Instead he slashed at it first time and the ball flew high and wide. At the other end Shanahan somehow emerged with the ball from a melee – no, seriously, I could not tell how he got the ball into his hand – to pop it over the bar and stretch the lead to fourteen points. There was still 22 minutes to go, and the runs, er, points kept coming. Shanahan got his first goal after being teed up by Walsh. The ball was flying over from every part of the field now and it was a question of sitting back and enjoying the spectacle.

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (15)

A young boy sitting behind kept up a relentless commentary that on another day might have made me want to throttle him. As it was, I couldn’t help hoping he didn’t think it was going to be like this every day.  Tom Devine, who I found out was to be pronounced De-VEEN rather than De-VINE missed out on a goal by overcomplicating things but made up for it five minutes before the end with a strike to the roof of the net. Antrim did manage to make to double figures for scores but the game ended with yet another belter from Maurice to ensure that any points difference discussions would be for other teams to worry about.

A record-equalling victory, matching wins over the might of Louth in 1985 and Laois in 1975. A day-and-half or so on, and it feels mean-spirited to take delight in such a patent mis-match. We’ve been on the receiving end of a fair few of those over the years though. Only last year we took a 20-point pasting at the hands of Kilkenny, and the prevailing attitude would have been that we should just get relegated and find a level to which we were more suited. We’ll probably find out what level that really is on Sunday in Wexford Park. All there was to do now wait for the cold turkey of football after the coke binge that was this game . . .

Waterford v Antrim 15 March 2015 (18)

Waterford: Ian O’Regan, Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors (Shane McNulty), Tadhg de Burca, Kevin Moran (capt, 0-1), Philip Mahony, Jamie Barron, Martin O’Neill (Shane O’Sullivan, 0-1), Jake Dillon (0-2), Michael Walsh (0-3), Pauric Mahony (0-11, 0-6f; Paudie Prendergast, 0-2), Brian O’Halloran (Tom Devine, 1-0), Stephen Bennett (1-4; Maurice Shanahan, 2-5), Colin Dunford (0-1)

Antrim: Chris O’Connell, Ryan McCambridge, Neal McAuley, Aaron Graffin, Simon McCrory, Conor McKinley, Michael Bradley, Neil McManus (capt, Conor McCann), Ciaran Johnson (0-2f), Niall McKenna (Conor Johnston, 0-2), Tomas McCann (Eoghan Campbell), Paul Shiels (0-5, 0-4f); PJ O’Connell, Shane McNaughton (0-1f; Tomas O Ciaran), Ciaran Clarke (Matthew Donnelly)

HT: Waterford 1-13 (16) Antrim 0-5 (5)

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)

Waterford 4-30 (42) Antrim 0-10 (10) – Giveitfong’s view

(originally posted on boards.ie)

Waterford sauntered to the easiest of victories against poor Antrim opposition in Walsh Park today. Although last night’s shock result in Limerick meant that scoring difference became irrelevant for next Sunday’s showdown with Wexford, Waterford still put up one of the highest scores and biggest winning margins ever achieved by them at senior intercounty level. Wexford have also posted big scores in their last two games, including plenty of goals, so the challenge they pose will be on a different level from anything Waterford have had to deal with in their previous three games.

On a fine but cold afternoon, Antrim had first use of the stiff breeze blowing towards the country goal, and dominated the early exchanges playing some well-drilled hurling and winning a lot of ball in the midfield area. However, once Waterford got out of second gear the tide turned against the visitors, eventually becoming a flood as the home side scored as they pleased in the second half.

Stephen Bennett, making his first competitive start for Waterford, got his team in the mood when he blasted to the Antrim net midway through the first half following good work by Colin Dunford. Earlier, a good stop by the Antrim goalie kept another Bennett rasper out. Bennett then followed up with a couple of sublime points from out on the left. At halftime Waterford were 1-13 to 0-5 ahead and, with wind assistance to come in the second half, the game was as good as over at that stage.

Waterford assumed complete control all over the pitch after the restart and did their bit to prevent the scoreboard operator from getting frostbite, as the points total rose remorselessly. A series of substitutions meant no respite for the visitors, with Maurice Shanahan in particular wreaking terrible destruction as he ran up 2-5 from play during the 20 minutes or so he spent on the pitch. Despite how easy things were going, Waterford kept up a commendable workrate, as the Antrim short-passing game repeatedly came unstuck.

In a way, it was possibly unfortunate that Waterford, for the third game in a row, did not get a decent challenge coming up to the big game in Wexford Park next week. Virtually the entire team, including substitutes, can feel at least reasonably happy with their performances, but they will know that they were never put under the kind of serious pressure. Iggy Regan got no shot to save in goal while the fullback line completely snuffed out their opposite numbers, with Noel Connors again giving a master class in the left corner.

The half back line were also in total control, with Tadhg de Búrca my man of the match at centre back. Up front, apart from Stephen Bennett’s excellent showing in the first half and Maurice Shanahan’s late blitz, Pauric Mahony landed five points from play in addition to six converted frees, while Jake Dillon also put in a hardworking shift. Colin Dunford was very effective operating in a free role in the first half, but the game seemed to pass him by when moved to left corner forward after the change of ends. By contrast, after a quiet enough first half, Brick Walsh became a dominant figure in the second half, notching what was, for him, an unusually large scoring tally of 0-3. Tom Devine also made a significant contribution when introduced.

Waterford: Iggy O’Regan; Shane Fives; Barry Coughlan; Noel Connors; Philip Mahony; Tadhg de Búrca; Kevin Moran (0-1); Jamie Barron; Martin O’Neill; Colin Dunford (0-1); Pauric Mahony (0-11, six frees); Brick Walsh (0-3); Brian O’Halloran; Jake Dillon (0-2); Stephen Bennett (1-4).

Substitutes: Shane O’Sullivan (0-1) for O’Neill; Maurice Shanahan (2-5) for O’Halloran; Paudie Prendergast (0-2) for Kevin Moran; Tom Devine (1-0) for Bennett; Shane McNulty for Connors.

Other players named in programme: Stephen O’Keeffe; Michael Kearney; Gavin O’Brien; Shane Bennett; Thomas Connors; Donie Breathnach.

The Invincibles

If memory serves me correct, back in 2008 there was a minor kerfuffle over the timing of Waterford’s clash with Antrim in Dungarvan. Antrim, not unreasonably, hoped the game would have an earlier throw-in so they could get back home at a cilivised hour. The GAA were having none of it. All matches started at 2.30pm on Sunday with exceptions granted only in extraordinary circumstances.

Whatever became of that edict? I ask, not because of the 12.45pm throw-in today (which makes perfect sense given the double header, on which more of anon), or because of a demand for consistency (ad hocery strikes me as being more in keeping with the nature of the Association than giving into the hobgoblins of small minds), but because it can be tricky to keep track of what is going on around you. How many people were unaware that Waterford played Offaly last weekend at 3pm on a Saturday, a start time with an oddly Lutheran feel to it? I know I was unaware that Offaly were playing Limerick last night, which meant it was a minor, if pleasant, surprise to find the Biffs Faithful had lowered the colours of Stab the Broken Treaty City.

It only makes a small difference to Waterford’s promotion prospects. Rather than needing to win both games, three points will now be enough. While I doubt that anyone goes out with the intention of drawing a hurling match, a small difference is better than none at all. And while I’m hesitant to say that any team ever succumbs to complacency in advance of a match – it was surely losing a man after only a couple of minutes that proved to be Limerick’s undoing rather than a smug belief that they were going to roll Offaly over – it’s no harm to be reminded that this game still needs to be won. Our last (only) loss at home to Antrim in the League was in 1985. If none of the current Waterford team are likely to remember that game, they should remember the abyss into which it proved to be the signpost.

Speaking of good records, an unbeaten one goes on the line at 2.30pm – mine watching the footballers in the League. Yes, I have never seen Waterford lose an NFL match. The proud record reads W0 D1 L0, a draw with Limerick in the late 90’s in Stradbally. Or was it the early 00’s? I was expecting better things from the Waterford footballers this year. The least they can do is give a dig out to such a stalwart follower today.

Revenge of the Three Priests

While following Sunday’s Minor match on Twitter, we all joked that the game would probably end after the match we were watching in Thurles on the telly. These things are sent to try us, you know? And yet it ended up being pretty accurate for a horrible reason:

Thankfully it looks like Jude McCurdy is going to be okay, and that’s what matters above everything else. With regards to the game, as with the Seniors and their damned-if-you-do win over Westmeath the scale of the win was at the high end of what we would have hoped for from the game. One thing we could have lived without was a small sliver of uncertainty about the final outcome. I’m not joking here. Last week we saw Cork make an appeal against Pat Horgan’s red card in the Munster final. This should have been a slam dunk. Having being instructed to apply the rule book, James McGrath applied the rule book. Yet inexplicably a judgement came out which allowed Horgan to play. There was a tiny part of me waiting for some ill-fitting suit in a smoke-filled commitTEE room to decide that the precedent had been established in 1998. Any game that finishes early must be replayed. Waterford were 20 points up and Antrim had conceded? Doesn’t matter. Any game that finishes early must be replayed. While this scenario was highly unlikely, it would not have surprised me at all.

I’m tired. I’m paranoid. Sleep would be nice, but then I’d probably dream about Colin Lynch . . .

Stars and Stripes not forever

Frank Abagnale Sr: You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?
Frank Abagnale Jr: ‘Cause they have Mickey Mantle?
Frank Abagnale Sr: No, it’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.

Much later in the film Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo Di Caprio’s Frank Abagnale Jr is trying to spin his father’s line on the awesome power of the aura surrounding the New York Yankees to Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). Hanratty is unmoved. “The Yankees win because they have Mickey Mantle”. For evidence of how correct he is over those who invest so much in the benefits of mystique, you only had to look at Kilkenny finally succumbing to a well-placed stake through the heart. It’s no disrespect to Walter Walsh to say that he is not Eddie Brennan. Seriously, it is not disrespectful, few players in the history of the game are up to Eddie Brennan’s level. Take a player of the calibre of Eddie Brennan/Mickey Mantle out of your team and it doesn’t matter whether the stripes are of the black-and-amber or pin variety, you’re going to be weakened. Brian Cody has been deftly weaving new players into the pattern for over a decade now, but the longer you go the more likely the probability that your new weave will unravel, and so it happened yesterday.

If you were only getting your hurling from the sages of The Sunday Game though, you’d have to believe that what happened yesterday was inexplicable. Even someone as unversed in the dark arts of hurling as myself could see the Cats were in trouble. They squeaked past Offaly, got beaten at the second attempt by Dublin, something you never ever do, beat a Tipperary team that has now lost three Championship games on the bounce, and let slip a five-point lead in the space of eight minutes to a Waterford team that never ever gives Kilkenny a game. How much more evidence do you need that Kilkenny are not the force they were? Yet before the game you had Michael Duignan blithely asserting that they were back in the groove. Based on what? Yes, they showed some composure in the extra-time against Waterford. But that was against a team that had put ninety minutes of effort into seventy. Every close shave was not proof that there were weaker, it was proof that the other teams couldn’t stop staring at those damn stripes.

However, this was nothing in comparison to the post-match blarney. Surely in the aftermath of the fourth game this year where Kilkenny were not ahead after seventy minutes, there would be some acknowledgement that the facts of hurling had now changed. Instead, Cyril, Liam and Tomás behaved as if the result had been but a flesh wound. The red card had been decisive, the ref lost control, he made several decisions which aided Cork. Such focus on the ref allowed them to pretend that if they were to play again in the morning, Kilkenny would bounce right back. It was as if they were afraid that if they were suggest that the Kilkenny juggernaut had finally run out of fuel, they’d come right back at you and prove you wrong. Because that’s what Kilkenny do, they prove you wrong!

Except they can’t. They can’t come back and prove you wrong. That’s because they’re out. There might be something to be said for not dumping on a great team, but there were times when I thought Liam Sheedy might burst into tears. Come on, pundits. We’re entering a scary new world where Kilkenny were not all-conquering and you won’t be able to fall back on predicting them to win to show how wise you are. Embrace it. You might even enjoy it. I know I will.

Through Gritted Teeth #3: the Under-21 Hurling Championship

The recent revelation, dissected by Shane Stapleton here, that Antrim had to race around the parish county kicking people out of bed to field an Under-21 team, should lead to a lot of hand-wringing about the championship – and that’s even before you consider the beating that the Glensmen took, a cringeworthy 32nd defeat at this stage, two of them against Waterford. Much and all as I like to whale on Antrim and their sense of entitlement, in this case the problem can be laid squarely at the door of the competition itself.

There must have been something in the water at one of the Congresses in the early 1960’s as both the inter-county Club and the Under-21 championships began in 1964. And both, in what must be a coincidence, have remained mostly impervious to tinkering with the format, the introduction of an All-Ireland series in the early 1970’s in the Club championship and a change in the way semi-final line-ups were decided in the early 1990’s in the Under-21 championship (something we’ll come back to in a moment) being the only obvious changes to the way each one works.

Of the two, it is the Club championship that has the air of something that, if it didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it. It slots neatly into the fallow winter period when there’s not much else on in the GAA, doesn’t put an annual imposition on each team (with the exception of Crossmaglen Rangers) and now that the Railway Cup is effectively no more the Club title has found an iconic place for itself in the GAA calendar. With all that in mind, it’s amazing no-one thought of it earlier. Oh hang on, they did – right at the birth of the Association, when clubs represented counties. Maybe Thurles Sarsfields should ask for their 1887 triumph to be added to the All-Ireland Club role of honour.

The Under-21 championship, on the other hand, has no such claim to obviousness. There was already a perfectly decent underage competition, the Minor championship dovetailing neatly with rhyme and rhythm of its Senior counterpart. It doesn’t have any obvious place in the calendar, the neat solution in football of running it before the Seniors swing into action not  being advisable in hurling with its requirement for drier pitches. Then there’s that format. The age-old problem of teams like Waterford putting in the hard yards on the training pitch only to be mown down in their first match persists in the Under-21. And at one stage in the 1990’s we had the utterly ludicrous situation where the champions of Munster and Leinster met every third year, effectively giving Galway a bye into the final – how many matches have Antrim lost in the history of the competition again? The ludicrousness of that situation was in no way compounded by Waterford being stuffed by Kilkenny in the 1994 semi-final. Such a suggestion would be, uh, ludicrous.

Yet the Under-21 championship has one thing going for it – so many of the matches are utterly brilliant. Thanks to TG4, those of us who are not in the habit of traipsing up the country to see teams other than Waterford (or, to be truthful, even to see them – I’ve been to a total of three Under-21 matches) can now see the games as a matter of routine, and they rarely let you down. Losing to Clare in the 2009 Munster final was disappointing, of course. But it was heartwarming to see the joy on the faces of Clare supporters as they landed the Munster title after twelve defeats in their previous twelve final appearances. Although not as heartwarming as the simple displays of congratulations offered by so many of the Waterford supporters that evening. The hatchets of 1998 were well and truly buried that evening thanks to a competition that is important – but not that important.

Then there was this year’s Munster final between Limerick and Cork. It was breathtaking, two teams going at it hammer-and-tongs like two prize-fighters where victory would only be declared to the last man standing rather than who was ahead on points at the end. Two things came together to make it such a classic, and they both run through the competition as a whole. You have two teams of players who have the vigour of youth but are all shaving at this stage. With the best will in the world, Minor teams do sometimes look minor enough to be banned from Gary Glitter contests. Then there’s the despair-inducing one-defeat-and-you’re-out system. Despite being a long-standing advocate of the back door, I’m not labouring under the delusion that nothing has been lost with its introduction. The relief that you won’t be out if you lose your first game is tempered by the knowledge that if you win the other lot are still in it. Beating Cork or Tipperary just isn’t the same these days, unless it’s in Croke Park. And that dreadful dichotomy lives on in the Under-21 championship. Long may it continue to beguile and bewitch us with its promise.

One final thought. Louis Van Gaal, when asked whether winning the 1995 European Cup was the highlight of his career. He said that the first time was always the best, so winning the Uefa Cup in 1992 was sweeter. And for me, the Under-21 championship will always be the first.

Summertime blues

Kicking people when they are down is never nice, but it’s doubtful that anyone is kicking themselves harder at the moment than the Waterford footballers. For years in both League and Championship we were grateful to Kilkenny for keeping us from the very bottom of the pile. Then something curious happened in 2008. Waterford put together a few wins in the League. All other things being equal, Waterford would have been promoted from Division 4 but for a last minute Tipperary goal. Now, all other thing are not equal and it is unlikely Waterford would have played with the same amount of joie de vivre that saw them beat Antrim in the last round had promotion been at stake. But it was clearly an improvement, and it’s been matched by some excellent performances this year in the League.

To recap: in the League we can compete with Tipperary, now a Division 2 side, and Antrim, this year’s Ulster finalists. So why do things go so badly wrong in the Championship? In 2008 we lost to Clare who had finished way down Division 4 and beaten in the 2007 Munster championship. This year saw a limp performance against Cork followed by a massacre from a Meath team who haven’t being pulling up trees recently. Why do things go wrong? Buggered if I know, but something clearly ain’t right.

Not my province

The 2009 All-Ireland hurling championship starts this weekend, and the marquee game is unquestionably the one in Thurles between Tipperary and Cork. The more interesting one though for those of us who obsess about how the GAA is run is in Portlaoise between Laois and Galway. Taking place at the time of writing, you don’t need to be Nostradamus – or even someone could really predict the future – to see this one is going to end badly for my wee nephew’s county. Still, the prospect of seeing Galway in the mainstream of the championship as opposed to standing outside demanding the mainstream divert itself into their path is a positive development.

This isn’t a cut at the Leinster championship. It is self-evident that the Leinster title lacks the allure of its Munser counterpart, but this isn’t because of an inherent lack of competitiveness – indeed, if lack of competition were a reason to denigrate a tournament, we wouldn’t be bothering with the Liam McCarthy Cup itself. It’s that for those of us willing to defend the centrality of the provincial championships in the All-Ireland series, the absence of Antrim and Galway was a glaring anomaly that needed to be addressed.

I’m unconvinced that any open draw system will make the hurling championship ‘work’. People talk of Champions League-style group stages, but we had that a few years ago in the qualifiers and it was not a success. Waterford whipped the mid-ranking teams then had their fate decided by their efforts against Clare (an away defeat) and Galway (a home win). However devalued the provincial championships might have become by the back door, and there is no point in pretending that there has been no devaluation, there is still a frission of tension generated by competing for trophies with a century-old pedigree. It would be hard to retain any of that in a round-robin format, and the amount of dead rubbers will reach Ireland-Davis-Cup-match proportions.

Of course, that’s not to say the provincial championships are inviolate. If they are so damaged that they can’t be fixed, it would be time to replace them. Even the Railway Cups had to put out of their misery. Hopefully the fix getting its first run today will prove sufficiently robust to keep these venerable old competitions on the road.