Cork v Clare: One of the great unfathomables

What did the National League final say about Tipperary’s Munster Championship prospects?

Cork v Clare: One of the great unfathomables

Not a lot. They have the strongest panel and the best pool of forwards and over the course of the round robin those factors will tell. While they’ll never field a forward line comprising Callanan, Forde, O’Dwyer and two McGraths — such a brainstorm would take the concept of a champagne overdose to extremes — they possess more silken attackers than any other team in the country. (Cork come second in that department.) This doesn’t mean a 100% qualifying record is anticipated. That would be pushing it. Michael Ryan’s men may draw one match or lose another. Yet even though the format for the 2018 Munster championship was not drawn up at a secret meeting under the Old Stand at Semple Stadium and bespoke-tailored to Tipp’s strengths and requirements, it might as well have been.

What did the league final say about Tipperary’s All Ireland prospects?

A lot, none of it encouraging. Losing to the Kilkenny of five or six years ago was one thing: the Arkle/Mill House paradigm all over again. Losing to the Kilkenny of springtime 2018 was quite another. As for being outfought, outhungered and outworked by the Kilkenny of springtime 2018… This was a new way for Tipperary to let down their fans and an inordinately dispiriting one.

Apropos of Brendan Maher’s anonymity no Tipp man, Padraic Maher included, was more entitled to an off-day. Apropos of James Barry’s unhappiness, ponder this for irony. For decades Tipperary folk bemoaned their centre-back of the day and yearned for a reincarnation of Mick Roche to fill the breach. Such has been the game’s journey over the past 15 years, however, we’ve reached the stage where centre-back is the utility position and full-back the specialist berth. Odd, huh?

Anyway. High summer at Croke Park. An All Ireland semi-final in the melting pot with ten minutes left. You know that Galway will gut it out. You know that Kilkenny will gut it out. The last thing you’ll do is put the house on the men in blue and gold gutting it out.

Will home advantage count for Limerick tomorrow?

It didn’t on Midsummer’s Day 2015 when, seeking a third win against their neighbours in as many seasons, they hosted Tipperary, were widely tipped to beat them — and lost by 4-23 to 1-16. But this is now, after they’ve finally escaped from Alcatraz and the heavy lifting has been done for the year and their season can already be hailed a success. John Kiely may not always have Paris but he’ll always have promotion.

Limerick have yet to lose a match in 70 minutes this season. They won’t overcomplicate things tomorrow and they’d mad to try. That they’ll carry the fight to Tipp is a given. That they’ll make enough happen inside the last 30 metres of the field to beat them is not. Limerick will not win an All Ireland until they unearth one really classy corner-forward. Happily Aaron Gillane has all the time in the world.

Cork versus Clare looks hard to call, doesn’t it?

The most opaque of the morrow’s four contests and wholly unfathomable as a consequence. Clare made more of a stir during the league because they reckoned they had to; Cork went through the motions and may be no worse off for it. At least the visitors to Páirc Uí Chaoimh won’t tie themselves up in the same knots of over-analysis as they did ahead of Anthony Nash’s puckouts in last year’s Munster final. The other lesson for them that afternoon concerned the inadvisability of shooting from too far out the field. The Clare midfielders and half-forward line have no excuse not to go short with a decent proportion of their deliveries here.

Many readers will have strong views on where Cork will finish up in the group. Your correspondent is not ashamed to admit he hasn’t the slightest idea.

How big a blow will defeat tomorrow be to the two beaten teams in Munster, assuming neither tie is drawn?

Far from fatal. This isn’t Leinster, which contains both the All-Ireland and the league champions. The standard in Munster is more rounded, and rather than declaim that anyone could beat anyone else on a given day, a better way of putting it might be to say that Tipperary are no more than a length ahead of the pack; that not all of the other four will beat them; but that all four are capable of beating one another.

Third place may come down to scoring difference, injuries, the fixture schedule or a combination of these factors. A narrow defeat first time out will be no cause for sackcloth and ashes. A narrow defeat first time out may even be the reason the losers finish second or third in the group.

Are Dublin as good as they looked last Sunday?

No. They had months to prepare for Kilkenny and devise a method of closing them down. They’ve had six days to prepare for Wexford and devise a way of opening them up. Last Sunday’s gameplan was intelligent and limited; tomorrow’s will have to be intelligent and rather more ambitious. Conal Keaney was magnificent at Parnell Park; had he been able to finish, the hosts would almost certainly have won. But Keaney, even if he’s passed fit, is 35.

Dublin’s planning merited ten out of ten, their execution nine out of ten. Pat Gilroy’s football sensibility underpinned it, particularly the layered depth of defence and the speed and enterprise of their counter-attacks in the second half. The eight wides in the first half and aimless balls dropped short to Eoin Murphy ultimately proved as telling as Keaney’s departure. Now to try and repeat the best bits.

What did their league semi-final defeat and its margin say about Wexford?

Little enough. Having faced Davy Fitz’s sweeper system on five occasions since last year’s Walsh Cup final Kilkenny had no excuses for failing to author a method of negating Shaun Murphy. (When they had the wind they shot from distance, when they faced it they ran at the opposition defence and drew frees.) By way of further perspective it was Wexford’s first bad day under Davy, it was well overdue and it shouldn’t have given rise to sleepless nights, especially since the opening phase of the league had made it clear they’ve kicked on from 2017. They’re more expansive and engaging and in Rory O’Connor and Kevin Foley they’ve gained two natural — as opposed to manufactured — scorers.

Tullamore next weekend is no gimme. Tomorrow against Dublin is one they have to win.

Should expectations of Kilkenny be tempered after their narrow shave six days ago?

Only if those expectations were misguidedly lofty in the first place. The league champions fielded seven first-time championship starters; they consequently lacked the heft to go through the blue wall, with the Parnell Park tramlines too cramped to allow them circumvent it; they were eaten alive under the dropping ball; they took 33 minutes to source a point from play from one of their forwards; they trailed for 68 minutes; and still they won. That damned spirit that Brian Cody is always talking about will not be interred with his bones.

No more than three of the aforementioned seven youngsters succeeded in keeping their head above the waves. In mitigation of the ones who featured in the forward line, there simply wasn’t enough air in the room to allow them breathe. But in Cody Land a choice between a moral victory and an actual victory is no choice at all. In any case Nowlan Park will be a kindlier location for his younger troops tomorrow.

How come one of the five teams in Leinster will be relegated?

Because that’s what the Special Congress last autumn — you know, the gathering that got unnecessarily antsy at the idea of the Super 8 in football and concluded, alone in all the world, that the 2017 hurling championship wasn’t sufficiently colourful and exciting — voted for. Nor was this a case of ’the GAA’ or a nameless, faceless bunch of suits from Croke Park doing Offaly down; it was  the other counties who agreed to it. Sometimes GAA gatherings are too important to be left to the delegates.

Seeing as you appear to know so much, what’s your four-timer for the weekend?

Tipp, Clare, Kilkenny and Wexford.

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