So finally, the big day has arrived. The Páirc is back open, with a shiny new stadium wrapped up in a big red bow, writes Anthony Daly.
The locals can’t wait to see the tape cut and the doors open so they can show off their new house. The Rebels have always been proud people. They always want to think they are the best. And now they want to tell, and show the rest of us, that they have the best stadium — outside Croke Park — in the country.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the old mausoleum has been transformed into the new coliseum. I’ve heard the stories from Tomás Mul. I’ve seen the video footage. It looks so flash it’s like something out of Jay Z’s pad on MTV Cribs. Today is going to be a grand opening with a difference but I’m not too sure that all Clare people are totally enamoured about the timing of it.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a hard place to get to at the best of times but 3pm on a Saturday, with match traffic, shopping traffic, road works, and the city already packed with people down for the Munster Fleadh could make this a gridlock fiesta. I understand that there are football matches on TV at 5pm and 7pm, which is the reason for the scheduling, but that isn’t much consolation for someone travelling from west and north Clare, or a place like Whitegate, hard on the border with Galway in east Clare.
It’s going to be a fair trek but I still think the Clare public will travel. The Clare public are fully behind this management and this group of players but they want to see something different now today. They want to see the boys having a go, to deliver a performance first, and then worry about the result later.
My only concern is that I felt the Munster final was the place to really cut loose, to find out where we really stand, especially having the safety net of a quarter-final. Now, Clare are facing a Tipperary full-forward line that scored 5-11 from play against Dublin, with a full-back line where the two corner-backs were skinned and taken off against Cork. To make matters worse, the full-back — David McInerney — appears to be out after straining his hamstring the Tuesday after the game during a hard training session. Holding a session of that intensity just over 48 hours after a Munster final was not a clever move by management, to my mind.
Now Clare have a whole pile of different quandaries. Do we have the corner-backs ready to mark John McGrath and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer? If he is fit, David Mac will have it all to do anyway trying to mark Seamie Callanan, without having a hamstring to worry about with it.
We are up against it but I don’t feel the need to go on one of these rants — that plenty of others are going off on — questioning the manhood of the players, and desire to play and win for Clare. If these fellas don’t have enough pride to go down and take on Tipperary, and absolutely throw caution to the wind, throw off the shackles and just attack the ball — no matter what system the management devise — then Clare are in real trouble.
These boys don’t need me to ramp them up. They shouldn’t be looking either to ram it down Ger Loughnane’s throat for calling 2013 as the greatest fluke of all time. We all know it wasn’t a fluke. No All-Ireland is easily won. When the Kerry footballers won the 2014 All-Ireland without playing the Dubs, was that an easy All-Ireland? Was Kerry’s 2009 All-Ireland, when they went through the back-door, a poxy All-Ireland? No.
Our lads are good fellas. They have proven themselves. They have All-Irelands, league medals, All-Ireland U21 medals. They need to focus more on themselves than the opposition but we need the lads to show more substance now. Even if we beat Tipp today, is getting to Croke Park a successful year? We need to show something serious today, real ambition, raw pride in that jersey, if Clare are to think about beating Tipperary, and even Galway down the line.
They have a solid chance today. I wasn’t overly impressed with Tipp against Dublin, especially their defence. Dublin just folded. The Tipp full-forward line racked them but the full-back line got no protection. I’m not an eejit, Clare will need some kind of strategy to cope, but they need to push up on the Tipp defence as well. There are just as many question marks around the Tipp full-back line as there are about Clare’s.
If Clare are beaten in a shootout, so be it. We don’t want to be beaten holding back. As poorly as everyone says we played against Cork, we created enough chances to win the game. At the same time, the shackles were still on too much and they need to come off. There has to be more expression in Clare’s play with the players they have.
I think they will have a cut today. The bookies odds of 30/100 on Tipp is an insult to this Clare group. I expect them to really rattle Tipp. I’m not sure that Tipp are in that good of a place but I also don’t know if we have enough to stop the Tipp full-forward line. Overall, Tipp should just have enough.
Moving on to tomorrow, everyone is expecting a slugfest, a sweeper-craze, enough to clean up the roads in Cork for a week. I don’t see it that way. I find these games intriguing battles, strategic wars, mind games with both teams and managements seeing who is going to crack first.
Wexford reminded me a little of Kildare last Sunday. You’d be giving them real plaudits after the Leinster final but both teams lost by nine points and the real test now is can they both drive on? This is a big exam for Wexford but all the pressure is on Waterford. If they are beaten, everyone will be lining up to tell Derek McGrath, ‘Yere system might win ye a match or two but it won’t win ye an All-Ireland.’
Still, for Derek and where the team are at, they need to stick to their guns and trust the direction they have consistently taken. When they didn’t against Cork, it didn’t work. It’s too late now for them to change. The indications are that Derek is going anyway at the end of the year. I think that would be a mistake for Waterford, given how far he has taken them, but he needs to either go down now, or go all the way, with the philosophy he believes in.
The players too just need to stick with what they do best, hope that Austin Gleeson stays in the same form, that ‘Brick’ Walsh and Kevin Moran will get through another savage day’s work, and that Jamie Barron and everyone else will do their stuff. If they do, Waterford have the experience and firepower to get the job done.
Wexford’s scoring threat from their defence has been impressive but they also need to learn a couple of lessons from the Leinster final. Shaun Murphy played very deep but it’s very hard to sit a sweeper that far back when you’re being cleaned out in the air on both wings. They also didn’t engage, or fight hard enough, with Galway in the air to negate that aerial authority.
When I played Alan Markham as a sweeper with Clare in 2004, and Johnny McCaffrey in the same role with Dublin in 2009, one of the core principles with the system was for the half back line to attack the ball like hell in the air, to get it to ground if they couldn’t win it. That ferocity at least makes life easier for the sweeper to do his job. But if he is sitting back that deep, and with a team enjoying such aerial dominance, he is largely redundant.
Waterford may have an aerial advantage again today in their attack. At the other end, if Waterford can keep Conor McDonald and Lee Chin quiet, I can’t see Wexford racking up enough scores to win.
It’s probably worth having a tenner on no goal being scored but Waterford have more of a chance of a breakaway green flag through Maurice Shanahan or one of the Bennetts.
Either way, if Waterford don’t get that goal against this Wexford defence, they need to kick on anyway after beating Kilkenny.
If that hasn’t liberated their souls, nothing else will. Waterford to win by three or four points.
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