Aaron Cunningham claims Clare must beat Tipperary in Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final for this season to be even considered a good one for the county, writes John Fogarty.
Last year the county claimed league honours while earlier this month they reached their first Munster final in eight years. But until they play in Croke Park again the Wolfe Tones man knows their achievements won’t amount to much.
“You’re going from preparing for a Munster Championship and everything is all rosy and then three weeks later you could be finished. Look, for it to be looked upon as a successful year we probably have to get back to Croke Park. We haven’t been there for the last four years. There is a lot of pressure on the Tipp game but they’re going in as All-Ireland champions and there’s huge pressure on them as well.”
Cunningham would have been brought by his father Alan, current Limerick coach and a member of the Clare team that beat Tipperary in 1986, to several of the counties’ clashes in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the 1990s and 2000s.
“It was more of a rivalry back then with Clare and Tipp. We haven’t met in championship for a good few years but I definitely think for a lot of the players the rivalry is still there.”
Cunningham came off the bench to score a point against Cork in the Munster final. He made his debut back in 2012 but this season has been his first injury-free campaign having suffered a litany of shoulder and hamstring problems.
“I think it’s strange when you think 2012 is six seasons away and it only seems like yesterday but I probably haven’t cemented a place on the team since.
“The competition is huge, especially in the full-forward line. Conor McGrath and Shane O’Donnell, every single night at training, they don’t give up, they’re on the top of their game and it’s very hard to get in there.
“I’m not far off it now, that being said. I was disappointed enough not to get the start the last day but hopefully I can work hard for the week and, who knows, I might get a shot at it the next day.
“There’s an opportunity there for me and I’m sure there’s an opportunity there for a lot more lads. In fairness to the three boys inside the last day, we just didn’t get the ball into them. If you’d seen the ball Cork were getting into (Alan) Cadogan and (Pa) Horgan inside, it was frightening like.
“No defender can live with that. We’d feel we have lads of that calibre up the other end but we just starved them of ball. Shot from distance and weren’t getting the ball in deep enough, like.”
Tipperary rediscovered form in seeing off Dublin and Cunningham knows they are the team with the momentum coming into Saturday.
“I think the last day was huge for Tipp because there was a lot of talk about them having a poor year and not being together and this and that but I think they put all that to bed last week and that’s a huge monkey off their back.
“They now believe again that they’re back to their best and unfortunately for us we’re the team that’ll have to stand up and try and face that.”
Meanwhile, Kieran McGeeney will face some of his former charges after Armagh were pitted against Kildare in yesterday’s draw for Round 4B of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
The game will take place in Croke Park on Saturday week (7pm) and will be preceded by the second meeting of Down and Monaghan (5pm) after Down won their Ulster semi-final clash last month.
A Central Hearings Committee is likely to be scheduled for later this week as Kevin Feely contests one of the three black cards he received, which threatens to force him out of the backdoor game.
Captain Eoin Doyle is all but certain to be unavailable having undergone surgery on a broken thumb yesterday.
Kildare selector Ronan Sweeney believes the team are improving despite Sunday’s nine-point Leinster final loss to Dublin. “We are getting there. We are making progress. There’s no doubt about it.
“Just thinking about ourselves and where we started the year, to where we are now. We had a loss here but I know we are making progress.
“The next two weeks are going to be huge for this team in terms of how we react. Whether we say, we’ve had a decent year so far, or whether we go on and try to get to Croke Park later on in the year. Ultimately, that’s the goal.”
All-Ireland SFC Round 4B, July 29: Down v Monaghan, Croke Park 5pm (Live Sky Sports); Kildare v Armagh, Croke Park 7pm (Live Sky Sports).
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.