ANTHONY DALY: Limerick may pick up the weekend’s most valuable points

Waterford's Stephen Bennett and Clare's Patrick O'Connor at a media event in a snow-covered Thurles.

In the last round of the league in 2013, Dublin played Carlow in Parnell Park. We were second in Division 1B so we needed to win to ensure we made the final against Limerick, writes Anthony Daly.

There were about 600 people in the ground but there was so little interest in our game that I could hear the conversations in the stand behind me, all the heated discussion and debates on potential permutations in a division we weren’t even in.

I was walking across the pitch afterwards when this fella came up to me. “Clare were hammered by Tipp,” he said. “Ye’re in the relegation final now against Cork.” I looked at him as if to suggest that the game he had just watched meant nothing. “So are the Dubs (we) in any final?” I replied.

There is no 1B final now but that was a unique final weekend because all six teams in 1A went into the last round with a chance of making the league semi-finals or ending up in a relegation final. It’s not as complicated, or intricate, this weekend, but every team bar Tipperary is in a similar position.

Dublin may only be hanging on to that possibility of a quarter-final by their fingernails but they’re still in with a slim chance. And you’ll take slim ahead of none every time.

Because nobody knows what might yet happen, on whether there could be a reconstructed eight-team Division 1 next year, the biggest game of the weekend may be taking place in the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow between Limerick and Galway.

The winner would take that eighth spot. The loser would spend at least a year in what — no disrespect to the rest of the teams — may feel like a twilight zone.

I don’t like the uncertainty around this whole situation. I know Paudie O’Neill, chairman of the hurling development committee, met Páraic Duffy in Croke Park on Thursday evening. Paudie will have taken his lead from Páraic as to where the committee might go with this but this area is still too grey for my liking.

I accept that debate needs to happen, and that red tape can’t be just sliced through, but if there is any inkling that change may be coming, the GAA needs to announce it in the next week. If they do, what then about a play-off between third in Division 1B and the bottom team in 1A, to decide who gets into that top eight?

That may seem unfair on the team that finishes sixth, ahead of a side that effectively ends up ninth, but I wouldn’t see a problem with the side bottom of 1A playing that game. To them, it would be just another form — albeit a costlier one — of relegation final than the one they are already facing.

Am I being elitist? I don’t think so. The team who finishes top of 2A every year has to face off with the bottom team in 1B to decide who goes up, or stays, in 1B. That is a tough ask for a team which tops its division, and the 2A winners, bar Kerry, have never made that step-up. Yet a reconstituted eight-team Division 2 would give two sides from 2A more games against higher ranked opposition.

For now though, staying in 1A is the only priority for the teams still in the current Division 1. Despite the bookies’ odds, playing Kilkenny in Parnell Park will infuse the Dubs with the belief and confidence that they can still survive.

Between a league meeting with Galway in 2011 and last year’s league quarter-final against Limerick, Dublin didn’t lose a game in Donnycarney. Parnell was always a fortress during this decade and that’s what the Dubs need to make it again tomorrow with Cody’s crew coming to sack it.

Kilkenny were immense against Tipperary two weeks ago but it can often be hard to replicate that level of performance, especially in the league, and when you have to go away again. The Dublin crowd always come out with Kilkenny in town and if Dublin make this a real battle, I’d give them a serious chance.

The most fascinating game of the weekend is Clare-Waterford in Ennis but Cork-Tipp is intriguing in its own right too. Will Mick Ryan roll out the big guns and try and roll Cork over? A lot of people seem to think that’s what Tipp will want, and what they should do, but do fellas really think that stuffing a team eight weeks out from their championship meeting strengthens their hand?

I know Kilkenny always felt it did but few teams are like Kilkenny and I always believed it could just as easily go the other way with the truckloads of motivation you hand over to the opposition.

Look at the Irish Rugby team last weekend: The hurt they carried into that match from the Welsh game provided the venom that poisoned England.

There is a subtle difference though, this time round with Tipp. If they want to take over from Kilkenny, they have to adopt their ruthless mentality. Why give a young team confidence and oxygen and a quarter-final spot by not being fully up for it? What’s more, defeat will more than likely mean a relegation final for Cork. Is that what you’d really want to do to Cork if you were in Mick Ryan’s position? I’m sure it is, which is why I fancy Tipp.

If Cork play with the same fight and intensity they showed against Waterford, they will have a chance. They’d also rather be playing Tipp in these circumstances as opposed to a Tipp team desperately needing points. Cork are also fully aware of the pressure they will be under if they don’t win, and Dublin do beat Kilkenny. That would mean a Kilkenny-Cork relegation final. And we all know who we would be backing in that one.

Every game is loaded with some form of pressure but we can still all get too carried away with the Ides of March and what they could bring.

If Waterford lose tomorrow, will they really care as long as they beat Tipp or Cork in June? Given Clare’s disastrous record in the Munster championship, they’d take a relegation final for a victory against Limerick on the June bank-holiday weekend. That is where it’s at.

Waterford are struggling to find form at the moment. Their record in Cusack Park was never good, while Clare have their strongest squad of the season to pick from. The Ballyea lads trained during the week and a guy like Tony Kelly, especially on a fast surface in the Park, will want to rinse the toxins from the All-Ireland club final out of his system. A guy with his class doesn’t do successive poor performances. I fancy a home win.

A win against Kilkenny would be a huge victory for the Dubs, especially in the context of how Ger Cunningham has rebuilt this team, and the confidence and belief it would instil in those young players. With the difficulties Dublin have had on freetaking duties to date, David Treacy’s return will provide a stability that will take Dublin close, but maybe just not close enough.

In the Gaelic Grounds, both teams need a win after bad results against Wexford. Home advantage may sway it for Limerick and secure which may yet turn out to be the two most valuable points on offer this weekend. Or maybe not. Whatever happens, the GAA need to make a call on this as quickly as possible.


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