IF the Dublin hurlers could summon Muhammad Ali‘s inspirational force to help steel them for Sunday’s massive challenge against Tipperary, he might well utter just five words: “Sonny Liston, Miami Beach, Florida”.
Sadly, Ali is rather quiet these days, unlike back in 1964 when, then as Cassius Clay, he stunned the boxing world by beating Liston for the world heavyweight title.
It was one of the great sporting shocks (to everybody except Clay) of any era as the 7/1 outsider dethroned the reigning champion, who was at the peak of his powers and considered indestructible.
Now, 47 years on, Dublin hurlers find themselves at even longer odds to beat the defending All-Ireland champions than Clay was to beat Liston. Dublin beat Tipperary in the league atCroke Park and won the Division 1 title but, amazingly, they’re priced at 9/1 to win the All-Ireland semi-final.
Tipperary are 1/16 to reach a third successive final, while the odds on a draw — which would be the first in the hurling semi-final for 10 years — are 20/1.
In horse racing terms, it suggests that Tipperary are a half-furlong superior to Dublin. On the basis that sport delights in producing big shocks from time to time, it’s scary territory for the champions.
And, however adept Declan Ryan is at convincing his players of the need to reach full power, it will take a mighty feat of mind-bending to prevent them believing that they can’t possibly be beaten.
Tipperary supporters have already begun the search for All-Ireland final tickets, certain that Sunday’s game is no more than a gentle warm-up for the Kilkenny test. It’s a perfect base from which Dublin can launch a serious attack, something which won’t be lost on Anthony Daly and his squad.