Thurles Sarsfields’ Ronan Maher pictured in action. Photo: Eamonn McGee
Just when the senior hurling championship was beginning to find it's feet, we must throw the whole system out the window because Congress decided to bring in a new hurling format.
With the disappointment as the quality of the Tipperary Water County senior hurling final passing at this stage, perhaps it is timely to take a close look at the championship overall and assess whether or not it was good, bad, or indifferent.
Yes, Thurles Sarsfields are a good stretch ahead of the chasing pack, and yes it will take a big effort form the rest to hunt them down. But, it can be done, and has been done in the past.
There's a great story told about Mickey 'The Rattler' Byrne coming out of a match after he had just starred in another Sarsfields county final winning side. 'Ye'll have to start going easy on teams, Rattler," said Fr Johnny Minehan. "No Father, they'll have to get up to the same level," was Rattlers reply.
The comment is as relevant today as it was back in the sixties. Eventually, the likes of Roscrea, Kilruane MacDonagh, Borris-Ileigh, Loughmore Castleiney and Moycarkey Borris rose to the challenge. So too did, Carrick Davins, Holycross Ballycahill, Clonoulty Rossmore, Cashel King Cormack and Moyne Templetuohy, to name just a few. And, when Toomevara were the undisputed champions of the '90's and early 2000's, winning eleven titles from 1992 - 2008, the likes of Boherlahan Dualla, Nenagh Eire Og and Mullinahone came good to break the sequence again.
Teams will rise to offer challenge and it will happen to Sarsfields again in this current era of dominance the club is enjoying. It's interesting to note that Sarsfields have won just one county minor title in the last decade, and yet they have won six county U-21 titles in the same period. What does that say exactly? It says that Sarsfields have mastered the art of bringing players through, maturing them, and getting the maximum out of them. It means also, that there is a supply line of players for the senior team.
What does it say about those teams who have the county minor A championship? Where are those players now? How many of them are still playing? what has their club achieved since. St Mary's of Clonmel won two minor titles in succession in 2015 and 2016 - they have progressed to achieve promotion from the intermediate to senior grade - clearly, they are moving in the right direction.
The senior hurling championship had many very entertaining games this season, as well as a few mismatches. Unfortunately, the championship was just settling down with clubs being pitted with others of a similar standard, just when they whole structure is being thrown up in the air, and not of the Boards doing. The Congress ruling on the new hurling championship structure dictates that Tipperary MUST change, whether clubs like it or not. There is simply not enough time to play the county championship, divisional championship and all the other games with the number of weekends which remain. Congress has screwed Tipperary and now the current system in the county has to be overhauled in order to toe the line.
So, just when clubs were getting used to playing matches against others of similar ability, the window will be opened and the system fired out. Leaving Sarsfields aside, if you take the rest of the clubs and throw them into the mix, there won't be too many one sided games. Yes, there is a disparity in standard - there certainly is - but the gap is not all that wide. What will happen when a new system comes in, perhaps with the divisional championships being completely separate from the county championship? The divisional championships could become toothless - how shameful it will be if this happens.
The concluding stages of the championship have been described as being poor. Is the fact that these games are being played in Semple Stadium leading to this impression though? With 3,000 spectators in Semple, the place is as dead as mutton - put those 3,000 into Templemore, or The Ragg, or Holycross, or Nenagh, and the places would be hopping. The crowd feeds the energy into the players and they react in turn.
There have been some great contests of clubs in the lower end of senior hurling - Clonakenny vs Borrisokane was a great game in Roscrea; Holycross Ballycahill vs Roscrea was a fine game in Borrisoleigh; and Upperchurch Drombane vs Loughmore Castleiney was a great clash at The Ragg, albeit in the mid championship. Granted there were a few right hidings too and Carrick Swans got a few of those, but they still emerged as south champions.
The current structure, which is about to be ditched, was getting there. It's a just a pity that Congress -not the hurling counties mind, but Congress at large - decided to drop the hammer on Tipperary.
So, don't be too hard on the clubs of Tipperary when it comes to assessing the championship. Sarsfields are outright leaders at the moment and fair dues to them, but the others can, and will, give chase. When exactly they catch up remains to be seen, but the nature of the race will change very soon.