Our friend from Clarecastle is for the millionth time writing about Clare and Limerick and is for the millionth time making it sound entirely fresh and new and dazzling, which means this offering begins by looking at Waterford versus Cork. Which in turn means looking mostly at Waterford. Because what remains to be said about Cork?
The high proportion of marshmallow to meat in defence, the deplorable length and angle of ball to the forward line, the dearth of dishwashers. The faults and failings have been parsed every which way, with the Clare debacle adding a new charge to the rap sheet: the puckouts. There is nothing left to declare.
Nothing other than this. Cork, the county of Ring and JBM and Kevin Hennessy and the Rock and a hundred other larger-than-life figures, have become….
Could there be a greater affront to the Leeside psyche?
As the front of house man Kieran Kingston has carried himself with grace and dignity while the building falls to pieces around him. But his assertion that the criticism that followed the Limerick match contributed to the poor start against Clare was, ahem, bracing.
Harsh words apparently sapped his players’ morale. Huh? Shouldn’t such words have had the opposite effect? What happened to the spirit that launched a thousand ships and won 30 All Irelands? Whatever happened to that most classic of GAAisms, “they’re all writing us off - let’s show the bastards!”? Is the psyche of the Cork dressing room actually that tremulous?
As to what happens hereafter, not to get all Cassandra on it but at this stage in Tipperary’s famine, 17 years after 1971, dawn had broken at last. They were about to claim consecutive Munster titles (you wait 16 years for a Clonmel omnibus etc) and reach an All-Ireland final. Paradise regained was only a season away. A new heaven on Leeside does not look a season away.
The downside of winning a national title for counties who don’t win many of them is the new obligations and burdens hidden among the Ts and Cs. The home date with Tipperary instantly became a more fraught proposition than it had been even a month earlier. Waterford couldn’t afford to mess up and they didn’t. Aspirant All-Ireland champions rarely do.
Not was the Limerick game anything other than a step in the right direction. They forced Nickey Quaid to pick the ball out of his net twice, which was progress. They kept the margin of defeat down to three points, which even allowing for the winners’ string of late wides was also progress.
No great leap forward, clearly, but that was never going to be permitted by the green monster. If this Waterford bunch are ever to take down this Limerick bunch the journey will be slow, incremental and painful.
The Deise’s three-weekcame at an opportune juncture given their National League exertions. Win tomorrow and that’s Cork out of the way. Should Liam Cahill possess a Machiavellian streak he may even be able to contrive a way of sitting out the Munster final. It wouldn’t be the worst outcome in the world for Waterford.
Sunday's venue being an urban park compared to the prairies of Semple Stadium, Cork don’t have to fret about being opened up and gutted the way they were by Cahill’s fishmongers in the league final. Still, for all the chatter about who wears the number six jersey, the identity of the visitors’ centre-back and the qualities he brings to his role will be less important than the identity of their half-forward line and the qualities they bring to their roles.
Waterford’s half-back line is the launchpad for their battleplan not because it’s composed of modern-day equivalents of John Keane, Tony Browne and Ken McGrath but because it’s composed of lads who exist to get their bodies in, take the hits, snout out possession and carry it forward. If Cork don’t match them in this department – more to the point, if Cork don’tto match them in this department – then the locals will create overlaps till the cows come home.
And that will be that.
Something strange happened on the Ennis Road last Sunday. Limerick were out-wided by the other crowd.
It was a measure of how well Tipperary performed and how indifferently by their standards the hosts – world champions across the entirety of sport, give or take the All Blacks, when it comes to creating scoring chances - performed. But there was a difference. Tipperary hit their wides because they weren’t quite good enough to do better; not now, not just yet. Limerick hit their wides because they weren’t quite on their game.
Not that it was “one of those days” for John Kiely’s team. John Kiely’s team do not have “one of those days”. They are too finely tuned, too precisely calibrated, for happenstance to intervene. This was a training spin for them, nothing more.
With the heavy lifting done and the two wins they’d targeted safe in the vault they weren’t going to keep the foot to the floor for a third weekend in a row. Serial champions do not indulge in the unnecessary.
Limerick weren’t getting a bonus point for beating Tipp out the gate, so why bother? Why not be undercooked for the day that was in it?
Hence the sloppiness with their shooting, even if their opponents were sloppier. Hence Aaron Gillane’s pull. Uncouthness – from the forwards, interestingly, rather than the backs - is an issue that continually arises when Limerick aren’t quite on it. That said, folk waiting for the day they’re reduced to 14 men should be careful what they wish for.
Right, time for a quick phone-in poll. Manager of the First Three Rounds of the Championship?
Easy. Brian Lohan top, Mattie Kenny second, Colm Bonnar third.
We take it for granted that an intercounty dressing room will be a cohesive and happy place, a collective of skilled and highly qualified personnel gathered on the same train headed to the same destination with a helpful county board executive in the next carriage. We are wrong to do so because evidence to the contrary exists everywhere. Exhibit A, Clare.
Yet circumstances that would have crushed lesser spirits – ie 99 per cent of the global population - have emboldened Lohan, who keeps on keeping on and has secured enormous buy-in from his players. He’ll surely be inundated with offers from crisis-management firms when his term of office ends.
His forward line possesses a variety that no other attack in the country does. Peter Duggan as hydraulic crane, Shane O’Donnell as ballet dancer, Tony Kelly as roving assassin. Such disparate parts might clash; instead they mesh. Granted, Cusack Park won’t offer the trio the same room for mischief that Thurles does but the reduction in space ought to be cancelled out by the energy they’ll derive from the home crowd.
It is both lazy and cowardly to venture that this could end in a draw. A draw it is, then.
Very possibly. Before we get into that, though, a word about next Monday, when Laois and Offaly contest the Leinster minor final, a unique pairing and the first time the event has featured none of Dublin, Kilkenny and Wexford.
As to what it presages, the question is unanswerable. In ten years’ time it may be regarded as a mildly interesting curio, a joyous and unrepeatable one-off that turned out to count for the square root of feck-all in the long run. No matter; for the moment it can fairly be stated that something is stirring among the grassroots in both Laois and Offaly. And that can only be worthy of celebration.
Events in the adult sphere have had a pleasing tautness to them. Four of the games in the round robin have been decided by the puck of a ball, with three of those games coming down to the last puck of the various balls. Dublin’s position atop the table, with three wins from three outings and two of the wins by an aggregate of three points, represents a positively Volvoesque return of fuel economy.
They’re hurling’s equivalent of an earnest, hardworking C student who yearns to better himself and you know what they’ll be like tonight. They’ll be sturdy and stolid and they’ll try to make Parnell Park even smaller than it looks and they’ll source an unhealthily high percentage of their scores from frees. Of the 1-71 they’ve racked up to date Donal Burke has contributed 0-36, 0-23 of it from placed balls.
You know what Kilkenny will be like too, as evidenced by the closing quarter in Salthill. They pulled level with 15 minutes remaining, they had a stiff breeze behind them and they were utterly incapable of kicking on. The draw they nearly managed would have been fortunate; the win they might have pulled off would have been a heist; a four-point defeat would have been a reasonable reflection of Galway’s superiority.
Put all this together and it adds up to…what? A two-point win for Dublin or a three-point defeat or something in between?
The memory of the outcome when the counties met here in March, after Mattie Kenny’s side had begun the league with a draw against Waterford followed by wins in Belfast and Thurles, gives pause for digestion. Dublin 0-16 Kilkenny 2-23.
Perhaps the best way of framing a verdict is to hold that the visitors are vulnerable (and even more vulnerable in the absence of Huw Lawlor) and that, in a fixture of greater import than Wexford’s trip to Nowlan Park next week, Dublin will make them queasy for 60 minutes before Brian Cody’s charges – with input from TJ Reid, who was airborne in training last weekend - find a way to stagger over the line.
In other words, an extremely Kilkenny outcome and a terribly Dublin outcome.