Before Dublin played Waterford in the last round of the 2012 league, we already knew our fate and that, whatever the result, we’d be facing into a relegation final the following week. The only thing we didn’t know was who we’d be meeting when we got there.
It was to be either Waterford or Galway so we had a decision to make before that last round game. Would we be poking the bear if we beat Waterford and then had to face them again a week later? We decided to experiment and see where that took us. We performed pretty well but Dublin lost the match, which meant that we faced Galway in the relegation final.
When Galway beat us after a replay, the inevitable questions came flooding back because you always murder yourself with introspection and self-analysis when you end up in a hole. Would we have been better off beating Waterford in that last round game, sowing some doubts in their heads, and then looking to exploit any of those insecurities in that relegation final?
Who knows? There is never a right or a wrong way to go about preparing for those questions because the answers are always either black or white; if you win, or survive, you’re right; if you lose, and fall, you’re wrong.
A couple of managements will have been faced with those conundrums in recent days. One of the most important matches this weekend is the Division 2A clash between Antrim and Offaly in Tullamore on Sunday. Antrim are already through to the final so they’ll be asking themselves if they want to face to Kerry, or Offaly. As the host Paddy McGuinness would say to the fella who has just secured a date with one of 15 girls on the ‘Take me Out’ TV gameshow, ‘The power is in your hands’.
The lucky fella gets to jet off to the tropical isle of Fernando’s — which is really somewhere on Tenerife’s northern coast in Puerto de la Cruz — with the girl he picks. But Kerry could be feeling like the other girl who he left behind.
To me, it’s all wrong, especially when the power was shifted out of Kerry’s hands. They’ve already played their five games, whereas Antrim-Offaly is a refixture after it was postponed a few weeks back. It’s harder again for Kerry to stomach when their chances against Antrim last week were derailed by an outbreak of mumps in the squad. So Kerry now must feel like one of the two fretting girls with their light still on in ‘Take me Out’. Are Antrim going to pick Kerry or Offaly?
I made the point here last week and I’ll make it again now; the refixtures should have been played before the final round of games. Because that decision has skewed the pathway for more than just Kerry.
The sending-offs last week are as good a place as any to start the defence argument. Robbie O’Flynn couldn’t have any complaints with his red card against Galway but he will now miss the first round of the championship against Limerick. Kevin Moran and Cathal Barrett could yet have their red cards rescinded but if the Waterford-Tipperary game was the last round of the league, Barrett could have missed Tipp’s first championship match.
Tipperary could still make a quarter-final. Barrett will probably get off anyway but that’s not the point. Cork didn’t make a league quarter-final but if their game against Westmeath had been postponed on an afternoon it probably should have been, O’Flynn would be able to sit it out this weekend and be back for May 10. Is that fair?
We all love the GAA but there are times when we probably feel like the odd fella on ‘Take me Out’, who is thinking during his date, ‘She looks great but she wrecks my head’. The world and its mother knew after the postponed games in Round 3 that the league final would be pushed back to the end of March, but the GAA only announced that decision on Monday. You’d wonder why we keep scoring these own goals.
Division 1B is already done and dusted while 1A is fairly straightforward, with Galway and Tipperary looking for that last quarter-final spot. Waterford and Limerick can still both grasp a semi-final but the match is effectively a dead-rubber because both sides are already sure of a quarter-final.
Limerick don’t know any other way than to try and win every game. A draw would still be enough but John Kiely and his management will still be going over some stuff in their heads over the way the cards have fallen. So how will Kiely play his hand?
He may want to try put manners on Waterford, especially when Limerick have Waterford in the Gaelic Grounds in the championship. Or else, Kiely may decide to experiment again, test his panel and risk the result, which would give him ammunition to fire at his players before they meet Waterford in the summer.
A lot of that might sound like mere conjecture or guesswork from me, but that stuff does run through a manager’s head. Limerick’s only target is an All-Ireland whereas a league title would be huge for Waterford.
Liam Cahill’s thinking will be fairly direct Saturday evening because he will want his players to go at Limerick at full speed. Topping a group with Limerick, Tipperary, Cork and Galway, especially when experimenting with so many young players, would be a huge endorsement of Cahill’s management. Winning in the Gaelic Grounds would also instill massive confidence in the panel going forward.
The one positive of the refixtures is that Galway and Tipperary is set up as a winner-take-all clash on Sunday, but that was pure luck too. O’Flynn’s sending-off was a decisive moment in the Cork-Galway match last Sunday. If Cork had won, this would effectively be a dead rubber for Galway. Instead of having close to 10,000 in Pearse Stadium, you might have 1,500.
Galway may have an edge at home. They will definitely want to win but you’d wonder how focussed Liam Sheedy will be on the result — he may be more concerned with seeing if another one or two players can stick their hand up for consideration over the summer.
Dillon Quirke certainly did last Sunday when scoring five points from play. Sunday could be another opportunity to see if Quirke, Jerome Cahill, Jake Morris, Brian McGrath, Bryan O’Mara, Paddy Cadell, Craig Morgan or Cian Darcy can show Sheedy and his management something more valuable than two points and a passage to a quarter-final.
That is a big game but the Division 1 relegation final between Westmeath and Carlow is far more important again. Having the game in Mullingar is a massive boost to a Westmeath team that has been fairly consistent. As well as running Cork close, they outscored Waterford in the second half, while getting within nine points of Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday was a fair performance considering Galway only got within eight points of Limerick.
Carlow shipped some big defeats but last week’s 18-point hammering from Wexford suggests Carlow’s sole focus since the Laois game was getting right for Sunday. Carlow almost got something from that Laois match but one of the real low points of the restructured league campaign is how isolated Carlow, Westmeath and Laois have sometimes looked, and how far adrift they are off the top teams. And yet, consistently going up against the big guns is the only way those teams will learn and improve.
Division 1 is still the golden ticket, both to stay there, or get there. Antrim have a shot now at boarding that train but I just hope they do the honourable thing in Tullamore first on Sunday and go after a win.
Antrim are entitled to look after their own interests but if they don’t want to meet Kerry again, especially when they know they’ll be a lot stronger in a final with all their players back, Antrim will be bringing Offaly with them to Fernando’s.