When Martin Kiely asked Eamon O’Shea what he wanted out of the league, the Tipp boss said he didn’t really know. He just wanted his players to reflect on the way they are training.
When Jacqui Hurley asked pundit Tom Dempsey for his opinion on this league, Dempsey said its unpredictability was like a riddle.
There has been no pattern to the last three regular league seasons but trying to get your head around this campaign is like trying to work your way through a matrix.
After their blistering start, why were Dublin so flat on Saturday night? Is there a share of shadowboxing going on? You’d imagine that players or management can’t run that risk but are fellas just easing the pressure valve in their minds to get ready for the heat that’s going to come in the summer? Or is it down to confidence?
Confidence is massive in any sport and Clare look like a team devoid of it at the moment. This time last year, still trading on the high of 2013, Clare were trying things for fun and most of it was coming off. They were blitzing teams with goals but they’ve only scored one goal in three matches, and that goal — against Galway — probably could have been disallowed for a square ball.
I’ve always believed that Clare are a top-of-the-ground team. When that ball is played outside to Shane O’Donnell and Conor McGrath and they can take it on the run, as opposed to bending their back which gives the defender that split second, they are a different attacking force.
Then again, was the weather any better and the ground any harder this time last year? Does that bring it back to just a team low on confidence? Who knows?
Clare need two big wins to have any chance of staying out of the mire but with the likelihood being that they will be in that relegation final, the big question for management now is what to do next?
Louis Mulqueen said before yesterday’s game that Clare had experimented against Galway and Cork but they were going back to basics with 13 of the All-Ireland winning team. Now, do they experiment again?
With the weather getting better, do they have another look at David Reidy and Bobby Duggan? Do they put their faith in Seadna Morey? That’s the kind of anxiety and instability that comes with not winning games, and Clare are still looking for that something, that fire to burn away the doubts as much as to ignite their season.
Conor Ryan was superb, Cian Dillon hurled a lot of ball as did David Mcinerney, and it was probably Clare’s best performance to date. There was one stage when Tony Kelly tried to solo past four Tipp players before he lost possession. It would have looked brilliant if it came off but it underlined how Clare were just trying too hard to get the result. There were positives from the performance but it’s a time now for leadership amongst the players and steely nerves from the management.
Tipp were well up for the match but the big plus for O’Shea and his backroom team — apart from the two points — was the displays of some of their new players, especially John McGrath, who was brilliant. If he becomes the real deal he looked yesterday, it gives Tipp huge options heading into the championship.
After the flat display against Dublin in their first game, successive wins also give Tipp real momentum heading into next weekend against Kilkenny, a game Tipp always want to be right for.
Dublin’s display on Saturday night really underlined the uncertainty of this league because it was a complete no show. Apart from Paul Schutte, and Alan Nolan — who must have had a pain in his face looking at the umpire waving the white flag — nobody else performed.
Maybe all the talk about such a good start with two wins affected their mindset and that Saturday’s fall will ground everyone. It was almost too poor to be true.
Cork will be delighted with the win but I’m sure they’ll have gone home slightly bemused as well by the lack of aggression and intensity from Dublin. Cork looked devastating but they got so much space and time on the ball that it was like a November challenge game.
They didn’t even have to bother taking on their man and go hunting for goals because they could shoot from wherever they liked.
Mindsets have oscillated so wildly all spring. Cork have impressively responded since the opening game against Kilkenny but Galway are the only team who have put three solid performances together.
They were really up for yesterday and there seems to be a real unity about Galway this year when it appeared it could be a difficult season for them. The development and form of Jason Flynn is another massive boost. Galway aren’t out of the woods just yet but at least they have had consistency of performance that they were craving for the last two years.
Anyway, apart from Cork, with their impressive scoring difference, nobody else is in the clear just yet. Kilkenny and Clare would have been fancied by many to make a league final at the start of the campaign but if they both lose at the weekend, their meeting in round 5 will be a dead rubber, with a relegation final to come. Then again, if Kilkenny win on Sunday... anything is possible.