ON A muggy day in Thurles, the various contenders of the hurling world went hurtling in different directions. The dauntless stickmen from Dublin are back in an All-Ireland hurling semi-final for the first time since 1948 after holding off a brave Limerick team in the first quarter-final of the afternoon.
Galway, meanwhile, fled up the narrow leafy road out of Thurles towards Portumna and the other satellites of the maroon game feeling spooked and lost.
It may have been their misfortune to meet a Waterford team that does not know how to quit. Led by their pale-eyed manager Davy Fitzgerald, Waterford bristled with pride and indignation at the memory of their previous outing in Cork, when they were embarrassed by All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the Munster final.
This appearance against Galway was as much about exorcising that day as beating the opposition but the fierceness of their attitude and their repeated exhortations to the Decies people in the crowd seemed all the more vivid against the slow slump that fell over the Galway team.
Memories of 1998, when a young Waterford team shocked Galway with a ten-point drubbing in that year’s quarter-final and 2009, when Waterford performed a famous Lazarus act against the same opposition, must have drifted across Galway minds from the very opening minute when Shane Walsh, their sprightly full forward batted home a goal which announced that they were in the mood for a fight.
As it happened, the fight never really materialised because, in front of an attendance of 33,535, as a strong sun fell over Thurles, it was evident to everyone that the black dog that has stalked Galway hurling for too long was out there amongst the players again and they looked an addled, distracted group as Waterford left them behind, picking off score after score in front of a delighted support who could hardly have believed it could be so easy.
It finished 2-23 to 2-13, with substitute Thomas Ryan nailing Waterford’s second goal with his first touch of the match. By then, John Mullane, who had publicly apologised to Waterford people after the debacle of the Munster final, had just left the field to a standing ovation. Just like that, the down-and-outs were back.
As the players disappeared into the cool of the tunnel, John McIntyre stood in front of the glare of a television camera and tried to make sense of another lost summer day for Galway hurling.
“We’re all in this together – there will be a blame game but it’s going to happen outside of the Galway dressing room. That’s the way I am about it.
“Those players have given me their heart and soul over the last three years. They’ve really trained hard, decent men, honourable men to work with and I’m upset for them, upset for the team management as well.
“An awful lot of work has gone into this and where there’s winners, there are losers. The defeat is very comprehensive and Galway is going to have to carry out a root and branch examination of why they’re not delivering on the underage successes and All-Ireland club victories. Physically, Waterford overpowered us today.”
Just over 90 minutes earlier, the same Galway team had come thundering up through that same narrow tunnel looking ready to burst through a wall.
Few even noticed Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer, cheerful and oblivious to a deep gash that left his forehead and jersey streaked with blood.
The Dublin doctor was waiting to stitch their star forward up but O’Dwyer was in no hurry. He has made an enormous contribution to Dublin’s sparkling season and his three-goal rush in this match was instrumental in bringing about a reunion with his former team-mates from Tipperary.
“Ah it’s a great thing, we’ve made history here today, I think it’s the first semi-final Dublin have qualified for in about 50 years. Look right now we’re not thinking about Tipp, we’re just thinking, ‘right, we got over today and we have a semi-final to play’. Regardless of who the opposition is, we know what we need to do.
“It doesn’t matter who it is but it happens to be my old team, Tipp. So, we’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Limerick have plenty of tomorrows to reflect on an encouraging season.
Donal O’Grady’s first term in charge brought about everything that could be expected.
“It’s a learning curve for them – the biggest disadvantage was most of the players out there didn’t play last year. You lose a year’s experience – maybe that told in the end. But we couldn’t have any cribs. The team that scores the most on the scoreboard deserves to win.”
And so Tipperary, their granite tradition newly polished, host Dublin.
Kilkenny, the team for the ages, play their neighbours from Waterford. Davy Fitzgerald gave that half-sad smile of his as he considered how Waterford have come back from the dead yet again.
“The most important thing is to feel the hurt. You cannot hide away from it. People probably thought we were off our heads doing what we did the next morning. I dunno.
“I’m happy with today. But what’s the story now?
“Do we just turn up and get beaten or do we go out and give it everything.”
And that is all that Waterford and Dublin can do now.
They are in a wonderful place now: hurling in August with the country roaring them on and with nothing to lose.