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Wed 23-Jul-2003 21:37
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Press Box Lad
Wonderful Week Leaves Leinster Back In The Limelight
You know what they say about a wounded lion. He will generally lash out at whoever or whatever it is that has inflicted the discomfort or hurt upon him. The GAA folk from the other three provinces are licking their collective wounds after four teams from Leinster epitomised all that is good about our games, thus restoring the winning counties to prominent positions.
GAA people are proud people and the pride of many of the hurling fraternity in Leinster had been severely damaged by criticism of the level of competitiveness of competition in the province. Ask anyone from Offaly or Wexford and they will tell you that they are sick to the back teeth of hearing that Kilkenny have Leinster hurling to themselves. They defiantly proved the contrary over the last week or so.
Yes Kilkenny have won the last six senior provincial titles in a row, yes they have completed a clean sweep of titles in their area this year and yes they have dominated the U-18 grade for over a decade, but last week Offaly and Wexford proved that they are anything but also rans in this year's championship.
In my column last week I questioned the wisdom of playing championship hurling on a Thursday night and while my fear regarding the attendance at the game appear to be have been well founded, it was refreshing to be sitting eating the dinner watching a different class of entertainment than that usually provided by television's favourite yellow pack family on a normal Thursday.
Nothing pleases me more than to see success against the odds, probably because it's something I know all about myself, and you'll hardly get a better example of that than Offaly last week. All week we had been hearing stories of unrest in the camp, the Whelehans didn't want to play etc., etc. How easily we are led!
Gary Hanniffy as much as admitted in a post match interview that the whole thing had been concocted to take attention off them. In fact, all it served to do was galvanise Mike Mc's troops and by about half eight on Thursday night all the attention was indeed firmly back on the Faithful. And, don't you know, three members of a certain family were at the heart of it.
Even before the game started one could see the determination etched all over Brian Whelehan as he gave his troops a pre match rollicking in the huddle. He's not even the captain of the team but it appears that whenever the man speaks everybody listens.
I suspect 'Let's shut them up good and proper' will have been the general gist of the Millennium Man's words. That's exactly what they did and they didn't waste any time about it either. From the moment Brendan Murphy waltzed through a Limerick defence that was as open as a parcel on Christmas morning, the men from the banks of the Shannon were playing catch up. It could be said that Murphy, who was exam tied up to this, was the main difference between the sides. Even though his fellow Ballyskenagh clubman David Franks was awarded the Man of the Match after he achieved something many have tried and failed to do, shackle Andrew O'Shaughnessy.
Though there's no doubt that the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Offaly's last three points, mostly because of who scored them. I don't think I need to tell you the identity of those who scored either! At the end of the day Offaly let their hurls do the talking and all the talk on corners in hurling areas of Ireland will be of how weary people will be of the sight of these boys still in the championship!
In any normal week that would be enough excitement, but the Gaels of Ireland were spoilt for choice last week, and in a sense the fun was only beginning. Wexford too had been stung by some people who began to question the heart of John Conran's side. Twenty minutes in, six points down, having hit seven wides and with Ken McGrath and John Mullane running riot, they were being asked how much belief in themselves they had.
Wounded lion syndrome soon set in. It's said in a pressure situation you should always revert to the tried and trusted. Cue a certain man called Larry Murphy! From the minute the Cloughbawn colossus landed at the edge of the Waterford square the game was turned on it's head. Paul Codd began to lash over long range points and when Rory Jacob showed the wrist work of a top angler while guiding the ball to the net, they were, almost incredibly, only a point in arrears.
What transpired after the resumption was the best display given by the Model County since that famous day when the great Billy Byrne skinned the Cats to end their title famine. Codd, Murphy and the Jacob brothers posted score after score and despite the best attempts of McGrath and Mullane, every time the Decies appeared to be getting closer Dave Guiney, Darragh Ryan, Declan Ruth and Larry O'Gorman drove them back.
It was a performance born out of upset and hurt. Wexford, like any team, didn't need any motivation once the heard people talking them down. The thing about it now is, it will have done them no harm as a team and it will give them the confidence to go on a bit further and when any team gets near the conclusion of a competition anything is possible.
Now, after two exciting chapters, surely it would have been too much to expect a weekend trilogy, but that's exactly what we were treated to. There were those who tried to question the value of a Leinster final without Dublin or Meath, but they firmly got their answer last Sunday.
The colour, excitement and all round atmosphere that both Kildare and Laois brought to Croke Park on Sunday marked it down as one of the greatest GAA occasions this reporter has ever had the pleasure of witnessing. In a sense, they were both winners, but in the end, it was the 'Micko' factor that swung it for Laois.
The Waterville Wizard has worked his magic yet again. As one rather famous pundit put it the other day, he's a God in three counties and would be in twenty nine others if they could get their hands on him. As I said in a previous article, he has given them everything they had been missing - discipline, self belief and a new approach.
All three were very much in evidence during last Sunday's thriller. They played fairytale football in the opening quarter as they went 0-06 to 0-01 up before showing guts and good heads to repel the Lilywhite onslaught and then substitutes Colm Parkinson and Barry Brennan were coolness personified when they knocked over the scores which ensured that the O'Moore County's fifty seven year title famine was well and truly ended.
This past week has been a breath of fresh air for the GAA in general and a very important one for the counties who have made very significant progress.It just served to prove that nothing is ever certain in the championship, but, then again, isn't that what makes it great!
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