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GAA football’s putting hurling in shade

By John Campbell

Between 1975 and 1986 Kerry won eight All Ireland Senior Football Championship titles but in so doing they might arguably have played no more than perhaps 20 genuinely competitive matches.

The paucity of the opposition they faced on an annual basis in the early stages of the Munster Championship, the lukewarm response of their own fans to All Ireland semi-finals and the aura of invincibility which gradually cloaked the team all combined to make the Sam Maguire series rather boringly predictable.

And yet it’s only in quite recent times that it is being more freely admitted Kerry’s dominance of the premier gaelic football competition in the 70s and 80s failed to actually benefit the sport itself and indeed served to breed cynicism in relation to its flagship event.

In sharp contrast, when Tyrone played 10 games to win the Sam Maguire Cup in 2005, the further explosion of interest in gaelic football throughout the county especially at schools level was phenomenal and the country’s economy — and particularly that of Dublin — benefited substantially as thousands of Red Hands fans took to the road to support their team on a regular basis.

Fast forward to this year and now grave concerns are being expressed about the welfare of hurling given that a fifth All Ireland title in a row for Kilkenny already looks a certainty.

If Kerry’s path to glory tended to be smoothed a quarter of a century ago, then Kilkenny’s route to recent All Ireland finals has been even more of a formality.

It’s doubtful if any other competition draw in the overall fixtures calendar is as convoluted as the Leinster Hurling Championship — and it’s a draw in which Kilkenny are assured of a place in the semi-finals without playing a match.

They thus fulfil a maximum of four games — a Leinster semi-final and final and an All Ireland semi-final and final — before lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup.

Hardly the most demanding of campaigns, is it? No wonder Leinster officials, having resisted the temptation for far too long, positively embraced Galway and Antrim when these sides were included to help reinvigorate their ailing competition for the first time last year.

Kilkenny on Sunday took on a Cork side that had earlier offered an anaemic display against Antrim in the quarter-finals before providing further evidence against the Cats that some of their players are past their sell-by date.

Even though the Waterford v Tipperary semi-final this week-end will carry more promise of intense Championship combat, the notion that black and amber ribbons should be attached to the All Ireland trophy has taken root.

What a difference in football, though. The forthcoming Dublin v Cork and Down v Kildare semi-finals — with all four teams having come through arduous qualifier itineraries — have captured the imagination of the sporting public. Such is the level of intrigue surrounding the two games that even committed hurling enthusiasts are finding themselves engulfed in the speculation!

No wonder Down chairman Seamus Walsh remarked that “all normal life will go on hold for three weeks” should James McCartan’s side reach the All Ireland final.

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