I was involved in two relegation finals with Dublin, one in 2012, the second in 2014. The first time around, we knew we were already in that position before we played our last match. In 2014, everything was in our own hands heading into our final group game against Tipperary; a draw or a defeat by no more than two points and we were through.
We were down by three points deep into injury-time when we had a chance of a point to save us but the player in possession wasn’t fully aware of the permutations (my fault). He dropped the ball into the square in search of a goal. The chance was cleared and we were right back into the mire.
Unlike 2012, the relegation final crept up on us on because we had already beaten Clare and Kilkenny, while we had taken Cork and Tipperary to the wire. On the otherhand, Waterford, who we met in the relegation decider, had experienced a difficult campaign, losing some games very heavily. Yet they still had one shot to move themselves away from the trapdoor.
The terms and conditions are very similar to those of Galway and Cork tomorrow. Galway got three results; Cork got none. Galway may have home advantage now but that isn’t always ideal in a game of this magnitude. The first year, our relegation match was played at a neutral venue, Tullamore, and then Portlaoise for the replay. In 2014, we lost the toss and had to go to Walsh Park.
In a peculiar way, it took some of the pressure off us.
We knew we wouldn’t have huge support so we steeled ourselves with that mindset. We circled the wagons and went down to Waterford in a very determined mood.
In Parnell Park, there would have been a big walk up crowd. The general mood would have been: ‘Hi, ye’ve played better than this lot all year, ye don’t deserve to be in this position’.
We were free of that burden, something that Galway have to deal with now. There is no pressure on Cork. They are written off by their own people. If I was Kieran Kingston I’d be saying to the lads, ‘Nobody is going up. The ‘Bird’ and his buddies with the drums and the sombreros will be there. Nobody else.’ You use all that stuff as a means of galvanizing the players, with each word and phrase like firewood you hope will ignite into a blaze on the day. You have to earn the respect of your own people first, your own supporters, so you try and stoke those embers in the players’ collective hearts to make them fully aware of what this means, to everyone.
Nobody wants to get relegated but the dynamic is trickier for Micheal Donoghue. Apart from the Dublin game, the first half against Kilkenny, and the first 20 minutes against Tipperary, Galway have produced some great stuff in this campaign. They have been far more impressive than Cork. They walked all over them in the opening match but Galway must put together another positive performance here to be guaranteed of the result.
Both teams are under pressure but it’s the sort of pressure you don’t want. Fear is a big factor and whichever team can play without that sense of dread, and just play with freedom, will be in a far better position to win the match. If every wide feels like another nail in your coffin, you’re going into the ground.
I think Galway will win. They have played better, have been more consistent defensively and I think that form will hold true unless Cork start playing the way they did against Kilkenny which is their only hope.
There is a touch of doom and gloom around Limerick since the Clare game. Naturally, they were disappointed with the show but getting stung so badly can make a wounded animal more dangerous than ever and this evening in Parnell is a glorious chance for redemption.
I couldn’t believe how little passion was in Limerick for a derby match with Clare but I have a feeling we could see the best of Limerick now. The return of the Na Piarsaigh lads will provide a further boost. Dublin have been excellent and to have qualified with a game to spare was a big achievement. They haven’t been beaten in Parnell Park since 2011 but I have a feeling that record might be in danger in Donnycarney later today.
Clare-Tipp is an intriguing match tomorrow, especially for Clare. Unlike Limerick, I expect Tipp to play with six forwards, which will force Clare to adapt. There might be someone sweeping in front of Seamus Callanan but Tipp will shove up and let the ball in long and high, and fast, on top of that full-back line.
There is a lot to like about Tipperary so far. They were really competitive in all their games and fully deserve to be in the quarter-finals. Clare were deserved winners of Division 1B and there can be a certain amount of ‘ job done’ in that. It was interesting to see John Conlon’s comments after the Limerick match. In a nutshell, John said it was the only game he was really up for in the division. Clare will want to move that on to the next level now and this is a great opportunity to see if they can.
Clare will be hard to beat but more casualties have been added to an already long injury list. David McInerney and Shane O’Donnell are two massive losses in a game where Clare need every player available. It is very difficult to see Clare compensating for those departures here.
If someone told you the night of the Waterford- Wexford qualifier in 2014 what lay in store for the following 18 months, you’d have thought it was a joke. One county seemed to have momentum, underage success and the crowd really behind them again. The other side had already been relegated in the league and the county was shrouded in pessimism regarding their future prospects. But look at how all of that has flipped around now for both Waterford and Wexford?
Liam Dunne has been really selfless. He has tried so many different things, to take in as much outside advice and he can get to make it right for Wexford, and it just hasn’t worked. Forget about hurling for a second when making any comparisons; there seems to be a weakness somewhere in that Wexford squad whereas Waterford have much stronger characters. Waterford won’t ever win by too much too often because the system doesn’t allow for too many forwards to be high up the field but the players don’t mind. They were qualified with two games to spare, which gave Derek McGrath time to experiment and a chance to get Pauric Mahony back. They’ll surely be in the semi-finals tomorrow.
Kilkenny will beat Offaly in the last quarter-final. If results had worked out differently, Kerry could be going to Nowlan Park, which would have been a momentous occasion for them. I was in Lixnaw presenting medals last week. John Griffin, the Kerry captain last year, was there. The general feeling around the place was that Kerry may be better facing Laois in a relegation final than going up against Kilkenny in a quarter-final. ‘Ah, we’re alright where we are’. They were projecting the potential doomsday scenario which could have unfolded in Nowlan Park but John wasn’t thinking that way: ‘You’d still prefer to be safe.’ Again this is hard to predict and Kerry wouldn’t want to be feeling sorry for themselves but they might have enough at home to pull through.
I think Galway will win. They have played better, have been more consistent defensively and I think that form will hold true.
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