The second weekend in July: the championship’s version of golf’s third round moving day.
leaves behind two of its traditional counties, bringing with it just six. Last year, it was Offaly and Waterford who were surplus to requirements. This year, Clare and Limerick were stranded. Never in the qualifier era has such bounties been sacrificed so early in the summer.
In, over half the starters have been removed with just 14 counties remaining. This weekend, six exited although perhaps not surprisingly all eight Division 1 teams remain. Dual county-wise, the double in is still on for Cork, Dublin, Galway and Tipperary.
After two days of such turnover and upheaval, it’s an appropriate time for observations on those who have left us and those who remain:
Just 49 goals have been scored in this year’s championship, a rate of 2.88 per game. At this stage last year, the rate was 3.68. That’s a dramatic drop but Kilkenny remain above the average, scoring six in their two Leinster games. Their average of three per game is up on last year’s Leinster figure.
Listen and read John O’Dwyer and Kieran Bergin’s interviews following Sunday’s Munster final and it’s evident Tipperary aren’t afraid to be talk big. “There was no way we were going to lose this game,” said O’Dwyer of the game. “We had the mindset set from October last year, we were going to outwork every team that we played,” remarked Bergin.
Derek McGrath may not have delivered his county a provincial title but in going down for the first time this season they at least lost with supreme dignity. Unlike last year’s defeats to Cork and Wexford, there was nothing to be embarrassed about. An All-Ireland semi-final beckons.
It won’t have gone unnoticed in Cork how Anthony Cunningham revealed he informed Brian Cody at the end of the Leinster final that he would see him again in the All-Ireland final. It mightn’t be John Evans-esque but it certainly is articulated confidence.
Results can’t be argued with but if it weren’t the almost infallible Jimmy Barry-Murphy at the helm, would Cork be criticised for their system transformation? Donal O’Grady mightn’t be so fortunate, nor John Allen, but the fact is it works.
Similar to Cork, there was a steel and determination to Dublin’s play in the closing stages in Thurles on Saturday not seen for quite some time. They’re still not built for goals but will feel unshackled having put that Galway trouncing behind them.
Davy Fitzgerald’s current agreement with the county board doesn’t end until 2017 but he knows another exit in the qualifiers next year and his position will be all but untenable. Some would argue it is now but that is to ignore what was achieved in 2013, only Clare’s fourth All-Ireland crown.
TJ Ryan has two years remaining on his term yet he is sure to come in for a tough time of it in the coming weeks.
You’d swear Cork won last Sunday week’s Munster final given all the praise coming their way in the days since. They were robbed of it, certainly, but that doesn’t compensate. Avoid the hollow compliments lavished upon them and they’ve a better chance of going one better on Saturday.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice last Friday bemoaned the amount of negativity in the county after the drawn final with Cork. Supporters would have more faith in this team if they didn’t believe they rely on him so heavily. To be sure, Kerry’s whole is greater than the sum of their parts but therein lies a problem. A hero is easier to find than heroes.
We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at Dessie Dolan’s remark about Philly McMahon taking a long distance shot in the second half of the Leinster final: “The wrong man shooting here”. McMahon is one of Dublin’s best distance point-takers. Dolan followed up by describing Diarmuid Connolly as “a dreamboat to watch”. That’s a new one!
They defied the bookmakers’ spread on Sunday but will be disappointed with their second half given they have been so good after the interval in previous games. If they’re looking for positives they need only look at how Kildare and Longford bounced back from defeats to Dublin.
It’s quite obvious at this stage that Rory Gallagher’s softer-touch form of management is working. Under Jim McGuinness, the strength and conditioning levels have already been built up. Mixing club games with the gauntlet of Ulster from the preliminary stage, it makes sense to ease training even if it’s ever so slightly.
None of Malachy O’Rourke’s side will feel the pats on their back after reaching a third consecutive Ulster final. An All-Ireland semi-final is the next step to take but their best chance of that and avoiding a potential date with Mayo is winning on Sunday. Matching Donegal’s shape alone won’t cut it this time.
The quietest start to a season Mayo have had in quite some time and it will appeal to them as so much more has been written and said about Donegal, Dublin and Kerry. A statement of intent wouldn’t go amiss this Sunday, mind, in completing the five-in-a-row.
They won’t find Mayo any bit as charitable as Roscommon were. That semi-final performance may have been their one big game this summer. Adrian Marren could find himself swamped as Mayo put more emphasis on their defence.
From the outside looking in, it certainly seems Kevin Walsh is trying to develop a cuteness in Galway that James Horan would have instilled in Mayo back in 2011. Their high foul counts this summer not to mention the two late black cards against Armagh lend to that argument.
Refusing to take off Colin O’Riordan and Kevin O’Halloran against Louth when the game was over long before the final whistle, Peter Creedon won’t be thanked by the Tipperary U21 hurling management as they look to the two players to lead them against Limerick on Thursday.
A business-like win over Wexford which on the back of something of a moral victory against Donegal gives them momentum going into the weekend against Galway. Unlike previous years, they have a stout defence to rely on.
Each game could be Mickey Harte’s last, which is sure to be a motivational factor as they aim for the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Facing a Tipperary team that trained with the U21s that lost to Tyrone in May’s All-Ireland final, they must realise this weekend is a revenge mission of sorts for the home side.
Nothing but praise should be showered on this Kildare side for the manner in which they have recovered from the hosing Dublin gave them in a Leinster semi-final. They deserve to put their feet up for a weekend having been out the last three weeks.
Pete McGrath isn’t working miracles but he’s done something quite special with a group that had lost so many leaders these past couple of years. The fortitude they showed against Roscommon will have Westmeath on guard. It mightn’t be 2004 all over again but it’s wholesome all the same.
Paul Grimley’s 2014 season seems almost halcyon compared to their recent indifferent displays.
Three good wins for Longford this summer but Jack Sheedy’s principled stance is stymieing.
It’s difficult to say just how bad they were against Tipperary. Paddy Keenan couldn’t be missed more.
“Unfinished business” for Mick O’Dowd but it’s difficult to see how he will be handed a fourth year at the helm.
They should benefit from Division 1 football next year as much as they look set to struggle based on this summer.
The rebuilding process has begun under David Power and it appears he’ll be afforded patience and the resources.