It’s Wimbledon time, so here’s the journalistic equivalent of heading down to the local court for a fortnight and ignoring it for the rest of the year.

While my mother often found herself in the same room as a televised game of soccer or rugby or Gaelic football or hurling, tennis was the one sport she went out of her way to watch.

Summer holidays from school were ushered in with Wimbledon fortnight and seemingly inevitable victories for Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf.

With an inbuilt empathy for the underdog, Mam respected Graf without cheering her on – her favourite was Gabriela Sabatini. When Graf lost the 1994 opening round to Lori McNeil, it felt like a shock to the system but the German was back to win the next two titles.Then, injury prevented her defence in 1997 – the first year since 1986 where she didn’t win a grand slam title – and 1998 was similarly frustrating.

In such a landscape, 1999 felt like a return to form as she won the French Open – all the more so as it was the young pretender, Martina Hingis, that she beat in the final.

Graf went on to reach the final of Wimbledon that year too but lost to Lindsay Davenport. An injury the following month effectively ended her career at the top level, aged 30.

A regal period followed by a brief topping and one glorious coda allows for a parallel with the Dublin football, who won six All-Ireland SFCs from 2015-20 inclusive. Then saw Tyrone and Kerry claim Sam Maguire – before the Dubs returned to the top.

On Saturday morning, before the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway – or even at half-time on Saturday evening – you’d have found few to say that the Dubs’ era was ending. Come the end and a famous victory for the Tribesmen, you couldn’t move for people applying the last rites.

For those Galway fans leaving Croke Park to head to Fairview Park to watch The Saw Doctors, it must have been a dream-like evening and for the rest of the counties in the race for Sam, there was a sense of renewed hope. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to a schools-out sense of abandonment on Sunday but, with the prize seeming that bit closer at hand, the fear of losing also grows.

The takeaway is that, unless Kerry reclaim the title, we’ll have the ending of a drought of 12, 22 or 23 years.

Hurling Hopes

Limerick hurlers know all about long waits – there were 45 years between the wins of 1973 and 2018 – but in recent times, the Liam MacCarthy has been an annual winter visitor Shannonside.

They face Cork in Sunday’s semi-final and it’s the first time for the Rebels to play in Croke Park since the 16-point loss to Limerick in the 2021 final. However, Pat Ryan’s side have the experience of having beaten Limerick in the Munster championship in May; and while wins over Offaly and Dublin went as expected without the heights being hit, Cork will feel ready to have another tilt.

Whether that’s enough is another question. There is a narrative that Limerick are a different animal when they get to Croke Park but part of that could be because they generally meet Leinster teams there – this is their first semi against a fellow Munster side since the extra-time win over Cork in 2018.

As with Dublin, we expect the incumbents to keep winning but only until they don’t – then the toppling seemed inevitable.

By the time Limerick and Cork take to the field on Sunday, they will know the identity of the other finalist, with Kilkenny taking on Clare at Croke Park on Saturday afternoon.

It’s the third straight year for the counties to clash at the semi-final stage, with Kilkenny having won the two previous encounters, but Clare did beat the Cats in this year’s league final.

The quarter-final win over Wexford showed that there was little hangover from the Munster final defeat to Limerick but then the Banner County have bounced back in a similar fashion the last two years, only then to fall to Kilkenny. There is a sense that an experienced team does not have too many more chances left.

That, coupled with Kilkenny’s inactivity since beating Dublin in the Leinster final, could be a real factor.

South African tour

It’s strange that a team that has won their last three matches against a particular opponent should be seen as the ones having something to prove when next they meet.

However, that is the scenario for Ireland ahead of Saturday’s international rugby test against South Africa, the first in a two-game series at the end of a seemingly-interminable domestic season.

Bundee Aki of Ireland makes a break during the 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Ireland at Stade de France in Paris, France. \ Harry Murphy Sportsfile

While Ireland beat South Africa in November internationals in 2017 and 2022, and of course in the pool stage of last year’s Rugby World Cup, the Springboks went on to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy. And Ireland’s Six Nations win almost felt like a consolation prize as it was not accompanied by a grand slam.

Whatever happens in Pretoria on Saturday or in Durban the following week, South Africa will still be world champions. However, after a campaign that felt like a near-miss at international level and lacked silverware for the provinces, Ireland must produce a response.

Slán, a Mhichíl

No doubt you’ve read some of the many words of praise for Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh. It’s worth remembering how the Dún Síon native moved with the times throughout his life, underpinned with an almost-innocent sense of wonder.

A piece on the official GAA website included a quote from him that summed him up: “I spent a few years teaching and that’s one thing I’d always say to young people, always look forward to things. Look forward with hope. Hope is the greatest thing of all.”

It sounds simple but it’s so often forgotten.

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