I had the pleasure of spending a few hours in Dungarvan during the week producing our radio programme, an Saol ó Dheas, from the West Waterford Festival of Food. One of those who contributed to the programme was Anne Mulqueen, the renowned singer from Castleconnell, Co Limerick, now long domiciled in the Rinn ua gCuanach Gaeltacht.
She told a good yarn about the late great Liam Clancy, of Clancy Brothers fame, who like Anne herself was a blow-in to the locality for years.
Upon returning from a tour of the halls and taverns of New York, Liam liked to walk the Heilbhic area and to drop in on neighbours such as the four Tóibín brothers, of whom Nioclás was one of the great sean-nós stylists.
One day Clancy happened to call in around dinner-time as they had a great big pot boiling on an open fire. Asking how they were since he was last home, the Tóibín brothers told Clancy of the hardships they were enduring and as an illustration of such, the eldest went to the boiling pot, lifted the lid and said “look Liam what we’re reduced to these days”.
There, staring out at Clancy in all its splendour was a magnificent lobster taken earlier that day from the pota stóir outside Heilbhic pier. The Tóibin lads, being traditionalists, were reared on a diet of cooked white fish and potatoes. The lobster, although much sought after by the discerning consumer such as Liam Clancy, was but a dish of last resort to them.
Anne told the story in the context of the local food festival and of how one’s taste develops over time to appreciate the finer aspects of the novel and often unfamiliar dish. But it was hard as a football man not to draw the parallels between the seafood delicacy and the football being played these past few weeks.
After being reduced to the Dublin-Derry abomination of just two weeks ago, we saw teams return to the more palatable game of attacking football again last weekend and now, ahead of tomorrow’s National Football League semi-finals in Croke Park, we really don’t know what’s going to be served up by all four remaining teams.
For starters, Donegal are at this stage, firmly focused on their championship opener against Tyrone in Mac Cumhaill Park in just five weeks time. So you might imagine that another outing in Croke Park at the end of the month would be just a nuisance to them.
Or maybe, just maybe, they might wish to throw conventional wisdom on its head and see what a three-week run-in to an Ulster preliminary round game would feel like. Just for the hell of it.
Any rational analysis of the curtain-raiser tomorrow says that Cork have more to gain by winning and those with most to gain this time of year, usually tend to win.
Think back to April 12 months ago when Donegal and Monaghan contested the Division 2 final. In a disjointed, lethargic and at times, disinterested showing, Donegal lost out by six points after having Rory Kavanagh sent off. You got the impression that they would have gladly tossed a coin for the trophy and moved on to their championship opener against Derry.
Pride and a new approach under Rory Gallagher might dictate that they will show up against Cork tomorrow but it’s more likely to be something similar to last April — a half-interested team with bigger fish to fry playing against a team with different prerogatives.
Expect Cork to use the outing to road-test their short kickouts to James Loughrey early in the day just to see if Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty (Donegal’s best league player this spring) are willing to tackle. If not, then we will know what kind of a day we’re in for.
Eoin Cadogan gets another chance to bed-in at midfield. He is perhaps fortunate that Neil Gallagher isn’t selected here tomorrow and that Michael Boyle is in goal for Donegal because I doubt he would welcome a shift where traditional high-fielding was the order of the day.
Given the natural athleticism of the Cork players all over the pitch and Pat Flanagan’s proven credentials as a fitness coach, Cork will have few rivals in terms of getting from A to B all year but we don’t yet know how they might react to playing against a dominant midfield and a forward line that doesn’t put the squeeze on Ken O’Halloran’s kickouts. I suspect we won’t find the answers tomorrow either and I expect Cork to advance.
The fare on offer in the second semi-final between Monaghan and Dublin all depends on what kind of planning has gone in to the Monaghan ambush over in Portugal all week. The few days together is bound to bring them to Croke Park with a far more cohesive gameplan than was apparent last weekend in Clones. It was obvious from the outset that Dublin noticed Monaghan goalie Rory Beggan’s tour de force from restarts the previous week against Kerry and denied him the easy targets that presented themselves so readily in Tralee.
When they rattled Monaghan for 1-3 inside the opening 10 minutes, Dublin began to play the game on their terms. Those terms involved clogging up all the channels that Darren Hughes needs for his thrusting runs. Failing that Monaghan tried to go early and often to his brother, Kieran, and to Conor McManus. It became obvious very early in last weekend’s bout of shadowboxing that both Hughes and McManus were suffocating under the sheer density of sky-blue jerseys around them.
In order to avoid a recurrence of the situation last Sunday in Clones, when Monaghan found themselves 15 points behind on the hour mark, it is perhaps inevitable that the Farney men will go more defensive in the first half. Earlier in the league in a pig of a match against Donegal, Monaghan showed that they can engage in the staring game with the best of them and in the second half in Tralee a fortnight ago they showed the more expansive side of their game. A mixture of both and then some might not suffice in Croke Park against Dublin.
Sometimes, to paraphrase that well worn line of Hemingway’s, enthusiasm is not enough.
Paddy Heaney rightly pointed out on these pages during the week that Dublin, like all top teams, can and will engage in defensive shutouts of their own. You don’t go an entire league campaign conceding just two goals by being as open and enthusiastic as they were in past campaigns.
It is unlikely, therefore, to be pretty or palatable but then again, as they will tell you in West Waterford this weekend, it’s all a matter of taste!