By Kieran Rooney
Player power was at the heart of matters over the weekend. At Congress level, the seemingly inevitable decision was made to officially recognize the Gaelic Players Association, while on the field Justin McCarthy's troubled Limerick team made the drop into Division Two of the National Hurling League.
Limerick's hurlers went into their final league game against Dublin at Parnell Park needing a victory to avoid relegation. With the Dubs in the same boat, a reasonably competitive game was hoped for.
Okay, Dublin were unquestionably the favorites but no one could have anticipated that they would win by 6-30 to 2-11, a 31-point margin. It was the sort of annihilation that has Limerick fans wondering what the future holds.
Not a lot for the current season it seems. The ramifications from the power struggle between manager McCarthy and his players were there for all to see. Hopefully, some of their players will return before long but, on the evidence of the Parnell Park debacle, there's absolutely no way that Limerick can be at all competitive in the championship.
That's not a situation anyone wants to see. It's bad for Limerick, it's bad for the Munster Championship, and, more importantly, it's bad for hurling in general.
Dublin supporters, by contrast, can look forward to their Leinster campaign with a bit more optimism. They have, in truth, had a disappointing league campaign, apart from a victory over Tipperary, but on Sunday they showed just what they can do.
Alright, the opposition was awful, but to accumulate 6-30 against any county represents an achievement. They scored 0-20 in the first half, and 6-10 in the second period.
To further add to Limerick's problems, they had James O'Brien sent off for a straight red card in the 44th minute. Alan McCabbe (0-10), David O'Callaghan (2-3), Liam Rushe (1-4) and Paul Ryan (1-3) provided most of the scoring.
Predictably, Dublin manager Anthony Daly was delighted with the performance and the fact his team had avoided relegation, but he also had a good deal of sympathy for Limerick. He said: "A Limerick problem needs a Limerick solution. It's not my business but it's sad to see a Limerick team beaten like that."
Interestingly, Daly also had a cut at some of the media, stating: "It's seems they would like to see us fall flat on our faces for various reasons. Maybe some people have their own agenda, but, from our perspective, it's a job well done."
For his part, Justin McCarthy strode past the waiting media after the game. Obviously, there was nothing that could be said.
Galway manager John McIntyre, meanwhile, had plenty to say following their 3-17 to 2-13 victory over Cork in a dress-rehearsal of the League final in Thurles on Sunday week. This Pearse Stadium encounter meant precious little, as both outfits had already qualified and they fielded under-strength line-ups.
Of more concern to McIntyre, however, is the decision to play the final at 7 p.m. to avoid a clash with the Munster's Heineken Cup semi-final against Biarritz in San Sebastian. It would, the Galway County Board believes, have made considerably more sense to have either played the game earlier or moved it to the Bank Holiday Monday.
The evening start, McIntyre argues, is not going to suit anyone, most particularly the younger supporters. "If the match was played at midnight in Madagascar, Galway would be there." he said.
"But I think the GAA has run for cover on this one instead of standing over their own product. The game is at 7 o'clock but I think they would have had a bigger crowd if they had fixed it for the afternoon."
Either way, Galway will go into that final having topped the league table. Only about 500 supporters bothered to turn up for a game where nothing was at stake, but produced a reasonable amount of entertainment with Galway's late flourish seeing them home.
Elsewhere in the top division, Kilkenny ended their campaign on a winning note, defeating Waterford 1-20 to 2-12 at Nowlan Park, while Tipperary got the better of Offaly 1-18 to 2-14 at O'Connor Park in Tullamore. Had it not been for a Tipperary goal from a free by Seamus Callanan with the last puck of the game, Offaly would have secured a surprise victory.
In Division Two, Wexford made certain to a final spot against Clare by accounting for Antrim by 4-18 to 1-12 . Clare beat Kildare 2-15 to 0-11, and Laois secured the bragging rights with a 1-16 to 1-10 victory in the local derby against Carlow.
At Under 21 Football level, Dublin and Donegal with contest the All-Ireland final. The Dubs managed a 2-10 to 0-8 semi-final success over Roscommon, while Donegal beat Tipperary 0-12 to 0-4.
Unfortunately, Tipperary could not repeat the form which saw them shock Kerry in the Munster final, their chances disappearing when they had full-back Ciaran McDonald sent off in the 32nd minute.
Former presidents Nicky Brennan and Sean Kelly proposed and seconded the motion to have the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) recognized at the annual GAA congress in Newcastle, Co. Down, last Saturday.
Although there was much furious debate, delegates voted overwhelmingly to recognize the GPA as the official representative body for intercounty players. "This won't eliminate all friction, but there will be greater harmony and trust with all of our players." stressed Brennan.
But there was little joy for those hoping for those hoping for the experimental rules to be supported. Most were rejected with the one of the most notable exceptions being the decision to have penalty kicks in football taken from 11 rather than 13 meters range.
Munster give Ulster a boost
Munster avoided criticism and showed that they have some real strength in depth by beating Connacht 18-12 in a crucial Magners League encounter at the Sportsground in Galway on Sunday.
Had Munster lost after fielding such a weakened team, Ulster would have been furious. The reason is that Connacht are hot on the tails of Ulster in the race for the final Heineken Cup spot for next season.
Given that Munster opted to start what was effectively a second team, this was quite an effort. Connacht, after all, had recently proved their worth by beating Bourgoin to reach the semi-finals of the Amlin European Challenge Cup.
But Munster secured the victory with tries from flanker Niall Ronan and full-back Scott Deasy, both of which were converted by Paul Warwick. Connacht hit back through tries from back-row players Johnny O'Connor and George Naoupu, one of which was converted by Ian Keatley.
Munster, who had to withstand some tremendous late Connacht pressure, were delighted. In the circumstances, coach Tony McGahan described it as "the best away performance of the season."
The Munster team is now in third spot in the table, back in the play-off positions, on the same points mark as the Ospreys. Connacht are still four points behind Ulster, but they do have a game in hand against Leinster.
Leinster maintained their spot at the top of the table by beating the Ospreys 20-16 at the RDS on Friday night, with Ulster losing 25-18 to Glasgow Warriors. In the All-Ireland League, Cork Constitution and St Mary's College have qualified for the Division One final after semi-final victories over Dolphin (31-18) and Old Belvedere (24-23).
Dolphin, it must be said, weren't helped by the volcanic ash crisis. It meant that their talented scrum-half Sam Cronin was stranded in Berlin and had to miss the Cork Constitution game.
Sporting take lead
Remarkably, newly promoted Sporting Fingal lead the League of Ireland Premier Division. Their latest 2-1 home success over Dundalk sees them a point ahead of St Patrick's Athletic at the top of the table.
St. Pats do, however, have a game in hand. Champions Bohemians have dropped down to fifth in what has become an increasingly interesting and tight division following a surprise 3-2 home defeat to Galway United.
Former Bohemians midfielder Stephen O'Donnell scored an injury time penalty to give Galway victory, and was then one of three players sent off.
A few weeks back, Shamrock Rovers must have thought that their league chances were fast disappearing after a poor start to their campaign, but suddenly they are right back in the mix in fourth spot. After a forgettable opening 45 minutes, they scored through Robert Bayly and a fit again Gary Twigg to secure a 2-0 away victory over Drogheda United.