A few years ago Croke Park commissioned a report into the running costs of inter-county teams and their must-have backroom accessories. Y’know, the strength and conditioning guys, the statisticians, the in-game analysts. The psychiatrists, the psychologists, the psephologists, the palm readers. And so on and so forth and suchlike. Were county boards getting bang for their buck, HQ wondered?
No. One of the report’s main discoveries was that all too many of the less successful counties were so eager to be seen to be Keeping Up With the Joneses that not only were they hiring outside contractors for the sake of it, they hadn’t a clue when it came to assessing value for money. In some instances the backroom folk, many of them from non-GAA backgrounds, weren’t quite sure what they were at either.
The other conclusion was that at the top level of hurling and football no such problems existed. Common sense will tell you that the standards of fitness, recovery, and the like in the elite echelon are uniformly advanced, with the leading contenders observing broadly similar regimes and none of them — much as they might like us to believe it — privy to some arcane Pierian spring undiscovered by their rivals.
The business of sports media demanding instant explanations in easily digestible chunks, the outcome of Saturday’s opener will inevitably be framed after the fact in terms of whose S and C administration carried the day. Either the last two Saturdays had taken it out of Waterford physically, and to some degree mentally, or last Sunday week had taken it out of Tipperary mentally and to some degree physically. Has to be one or t’other, huh?
Not so. Maybe Waterford’s momentum will swing it. Maybe Tipperary’s forwards will be at their cold-eyed meanest for more than the 35 minutes of the Munster final and that’ll do. But be sure that both sides will be equally well rested, well hydrated, well carbed, the works. This isn’t 1985.
Here’s a statement so obvious, and so obviously Wildean, that it probably shouldn’t be made.
Nonetheless… For Tipp to win one All-Ireland after getting murdered by Limerick in the Munster final was fortunate; for them to win a second All-Ireland after getting murdered by Limerick in the Munster final would be pushing it.
Yet they stitched 2-16 into the MacCarthy Cup holders in the first half a fortnight ago and it could have been a few points more. Nobody else in the country could have managed that. Until such time as they depart Championship 2021 Tipp remain the second best team in the competition.
As per Sherlock Holmes’s injunction about the inadvisability of theorising in advance of one’s data it would be handy to have glimpsed Liam Sheedy’s starting XV ahead of deadline. Still, this is one day when his starting XV will be of less interest and importance than his finishing XV.
Sheedy blamed himself for being slow to throw bodies on in the second half last time out. (Tipp fans of a venerable vintage may have detected echoes of the second half of the 1967 All-Ireland final when a number of their most decorated warriors grew old together.) He’ll make better use of his bench here because he’ll have to. And this may be the afternoon one of the county’s recent U20 starlets comes on and makes a name for himself.
When the sides met at Walsh Park last month, come the closing 10 minutes, Waterford ran away from a visiting outfit containing 13 of the 14 outfielders who’d start the Munster final. A possible straw in the wind. Or equally possibly the type of thing that happens in the last round of the league.
As they were for Galway seven days ago Waterford constitute precisely the sort of opponents, speedy and brisk and muscular, who’ll happily shove Tipp into a gorge. Admittedly Shaun O’Brien failed to impress for Cathal Mannion’s goal, but Jamie Barron was back and when Jamie Barron is around, anything is possible for the Déise.
Although the breadth of Austin Gleeson’s range of gifts is greater, Barron has been a more consistently effective performer over the past five years. Gleeson has off-days; Barron does not. We cannot guess what Gleeson will produce on Saturday; we know full well what Barron, the team’s heart and its soul and its piston engine, will produce.
The respective standard operating procedures will vary to an extent. While Tipp will shoot from long range, they’ll also try to gut their opponents with goals when the curtains are opened. Waterford ate Galway alive between the two 45s and loosed their arrows from distance, with Peter Hogan creating scores for four different colleagues in the first half alone.
Liam Cahill’s stock continues to rise. He made bold decisions against Galway, rethinking and rejigging his team; he sent out a selection missing Tadhg De Búrca, merely one of the most intelligent and influential players of his generation, De Búrca’s understudy Iarlaith Daly and Pauric Mahony, a laser-guided, space-creating forward; and he saw said XV rampage all over the Westerners. The next Tipp manager but one? Surely. If even that.
Denis Hurley, that estimable young representative of the Evening Echo, came up with a startling stat last Saturday night. The Clare game was, he revealed, Cork’s first championship victory achieved by dint of scoring more goals and fewer points than the opposition since a 2-10 to 0-13 success against Waterford in 1991.
Now what the reader makes of this is entirely up to her or him. A mildly diverting, promptly forgotten curio? Trivia that only geeks could treasure? A gloriously irrelevant one-off that won’t be repeated for another 30 years?
It may be any of those items or none. But here’s something it may also be: an indication that Cork are on the rails they want to be on, having made it clear from the beginning of the year that in order to try and regain the MacCarthy Cup they’d be seeking to outgoal all comers.
Green flags were the object of the exercise against Limerick, the only way they could have taken down the All-Ireland champions and the only way they’ll take them down if it comes to a rematch. In the meantime a sufficiency of points will sink Dublin, whose upset of Galway is a distant memory and who’ll scarcely hit much more than 1-20.
Jack O’Connor might have had a hat-trick against Clare. In the there and then Cork would have breathed more easily if he had; the chap himself is better off that he didn’t. But his second attempt, pushed away by Eibhear Quilligan, was instructive. O’Connor wasn’t happy to settle for a handy point to burnish his earlier goal. A certain breed of inside forward never is.
Seamus Harnedy has enjoyed better days than he did last Saturday. He always fronts up, however, and he always wins possession and he’s usually a reliable shooter. And Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett are top of the ground hurlers in a top of the ground summer.
Cork remain a little too easy to play against. If this ought not to matter here it probably will before the season is out. Finding a snide and subtle defender will be one item on the To-Do list for 2022.
Being Cork they’ll have expected to beat Limerick even if a voice whispering in their ear might have advised common sense. Being Cork they’ll expect to beat Dublin and no insidious voices will whisper otherwise. Mattie Kenny will have spent some of the past week on unavoidable psychological stuff. Kieran Kingston won’t have been encumbered by any such necessary irritants.
Hindsight is not a requirement for holding that, with a berth in the last six guaranteed, Kenny shouldn’t have started Eoghan O’Donnell in the Leinster final. But more so than the injuries and the Covid misfortune it was the 16 wides that Draculaed the losers’ lifeblood. How horribly predictable, moreover, that in last Tuesday’s Leinster u20 decider Dublin would match Galway for points but not for goals.
Some other observations.
One didn’t have to be a Galway native to feel relieved at full-time last Saturday that Joe Canning was the possessor of an All-Ireland medal; one doesn’t have to be a Galway native to feel even more relieved on Saturday. His finest moment? Too myriad to mention, a large proportion of them occasions when he compiled preposterous totals on losing teams, but his winning of the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final, and thereby the title, will still be gaped at in the viewing formats of the 22nd century.
That it wasn’t a stroke of genius or some unprecedented gaisce was actually part of it. Canning read Johnny Coen’s intentions and he got his shot away within the confines of a confession box and he wasn’t blocked and it didn’t drop short or go wide. Simple enough. For that’s the thing about the greats. In the last minute, with the game on the line, they do what they’d do in the first minute and they make it look easy and they make it look inevitable.
Waterford’s minors did a number on Tipp the other night. That won’t directly impact proceedings in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but it can’t do the county any harm. The little things matter for the Waterfords and the Wexfords. They always will.
Cathal Barrett has now got himself entangled in a flashpoint in three of his last six championship outings. He may have spent time since the Munster final reflecting on the truism that most of the best corner-backs are, like the best referees, the lads who don’t get noticed.
Cork with some degree of comfort. Tipp with no degree of comfort. But they may have a kick left in them all the same.