Munster protagonists have added incentive to win provincial title... avoiding Galway until a potential All-Ireland final

By Peter McNamara

The scoring differences tell a story.

They have gone, in the midst of the magic, unnoticed, but they do.

Galway +30. Limerick +19. The form teams. Both, obviously, qualified for the All-Ireland series. And in the finest of fettle. The Tribesmen, it has to be said, in the finest fettle of all.

In fact, it seems as if, especially now with Tipperary, shockingly, departed from the All-Ireland race even before it began, out of the equation, this is Galway’s All-Ireland title to lose. And, as we know, they have a liking for retaining the trophy when it comes along.

Micheál Donoghue and his players will have had a cheeky smile at the Premier’s expense on Sunday as, deep down, they would have appreciated that Tipp, were they to negotiate the various backdoor hurdles, were the one side they really did not want to have to meet at any point given their recent head-to-head history and how games between the sides are always nigh-on impossible to call until the referee has blown his full-time whistle.

Not, of course, that Galway will take any opponent lightly, as we are sure they will say between now and a potential All-Ireland final berthing.

Yet, they are merely 6/5 to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup again this year for really good reason.

Realistically, they are a short distance clear of the chasing pack, even if they would not acknowledge it.

Kilkenny in Croke Park will represent a proper challenge for the Tribesmen.

However, Donoghue’s outfit will be expected to come through their examination and secure a spot in the All-Ireland semi-final.

This means the Clare-Limerick and Waterford-Cork encounters take on truly massive significance next weekend.

A lot of people will suggest the best opportunity to catch Galway cold at this point would be in an All-Ireland semi-final.

Yet, I disagree. Vehemently. The collective strengths of the All-Ireland champions could be only most vulnerable in an All-Ireland final this year.

Therefore, clinching the Munster crown now is of the utmost importance for Limerick, Cork and Clare.

Whichever two of those three units do not win the southern provincial title could conceivably clash with Galway, that is if the westerners claim the Leinster trophy, in an All-Ireland semi-final.

And even though the teams that progress to the All-Ireland semi-finals from the quarter-final stage will be said to be primed to possibly take out a county left ‘cold’ by inactivity, I sincerely doubt Lukasz Kirszenstein, Galway’s strength & conditioning coach, will have the side anything other than at concert pitch to repel their challengers on that day.

And, of course, Kirszenstein will have Galway physically ready for an All-Ireland final as well. However, mentally, there is far more involved in navigating your way through the occasion of an All-Ireland final than an All-Ireland semi-final, hence the illustration, which, to be fair, is probably clutching at straws, that Donoghue’s charges might be more vulnerable on All-Ireland final-day.

Yet, staying away from Galway for as long as possible is imperative for the three counties that have emerged from Munster.

Cork, given the fact Waterford have left the building in terms of their capacity to advance, will be expected to earn the victory over the Déise that will take them through to the provincial decider.

After all, how motivated will Derek McGrath’s side be next Sunday? Therefore, the class of John Meyler’s team should be telling.

The question is, who should they then meet in the final? John Kiely’s side are scoring well.

Limerick have hit 1-23, 0-28 and 2-26 in their three Munster championship outings.

Clare, though, have not exactly been shy in front of the posts either with the following tallies: 1-21, 2-27, 1-23.

In fact, if you look at the ‘For’ column in the Munster SHC table at present you will see Limerick have 86 while Clare and Cork have 83.

The key, with those numbers in mind, for both Limerick and Clare now this week, is to try and tighten up defensively.

The Treaty, in terms of the ‘Against’ section in that table, are on 67 whereas Clare have conceded 77, but Kiely will understand that Clare are more than capable of hurting Limerick.

Despite this, of the two, Limerick, statistically, appear to be a little more steady defensively overall.

Granted, those that participated in the Leinster SHC have played a round more than their Munster counterparts, but Limerick have conceded the least of all the teams across the two sections.

And when you factor in that there is no team in the Munster SHC as out of their depth as Offaly were in Leinster, the fact the Munster teams have contested a game less balances itself out more for purposes of stressing this point that Limerick’s rearguard is evidently well-drilled and well-organised.

And still, would anybody be brave or foolish enough to call Clare-Limerick next Sunday, especially factoring in that any slight form advantage the visitors have currently is negated by the fact they are the visitors in the first place?

Nobody with half a clue would rule out another draw which would take Limerick through. But then, no result in Ennis would surprise anybody.

Defeat for either county is not the end of the world by any means. Regrouping to book an All-Ireland quarter-final ticket should be relatively straightforward.

However, defeat will also mean Galway may just loom over that horizon sooner than either side would wish.

Even if Brian Cody would scoff at that notion.

All kidding aside, allowing for Galway’s strength of position at the head of the food chain, landing the Munster title arguably means more this summer than it has for a few years now.

Over to Limerick, Cork and Clare.

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