JOHN FOGARTY: Clare draw the short straw in both codes

Nobody over-eggs anticipation like World Rugby. The draw for next year’s World Cup in Japan was made last May, a full 803 days before the start of the tournament.

And how pretty it was for Ireland. Never mind that the seeding was premised on form over two years away, Joe Schmidt’s luck was in.

A World Cup will eventually be something to be excited about but there wasn’t much in what was unveiled last week for Championship 2019, a likely 216 days out from a ball being kicked or pucked in anger.

The changes to the provincial hurling championships meant most was already known about the Leinster and Munster set-ups and the premature release of the fixtures made it obvious who received a bum steer.

In both codes, it wasn’t difficult to pick out the biggest losers:

Clare footballers

Colm Collins’ words didn’t betray him but his body language did in receiving the contents of the canister from Munster chairman Jerry O’Sullivan at Montrose. “Bloody Kerry again.”

He would have every reason to be exasperated by Clare’s lack of luck or, to be more precise, his own — in five seasons in charge, he has faced Kerry four times in the province and there was also an All-Ireland quarter-final in 2015. Clare must first defeat Limerick but they will be fancied to do so setting up a date with Kerry at Cusack Park for a third time since 2014.

If ever there was a case for altering the provincial championship structure to avoid repeat or possible repeat fixtures, this was it.

Clare hurlers

Up to late last week, things looked rosy in the Banner garden. With their fine home Championship record, Cork and Tipperary coming to Ennis would be the equivalent of Ireland hosting England and France in Dublin — and their chances of topping the table would be greatly improved.

But then it was revealed last week that they had lost their argument to face Tipperary on the weekend on May 26, thus their last three matches will occur in the space of a fortnight.

A run of Tipperary, Limerick, and Cork to finish out their campaign is quite the gauntlet, particularly when just one Liam MacCarthy Cup team managed to win all three games this season (Galway, whose last of that trio was a dead rubber against Dublin).

Limerick are in the same boat but at least they knew a few weeks earlier what their fate was; Clare had hoped to avoid that three weekend blitz.

Tyrone

As romantic/notional as it was to believe they would repeat history, people did draw parallels between Tyrone’s 10-game run to this year’s All-Ireland final and a similar distance it took to reach the decider they won.

Clare draw the short straw in both codes

 

Both marathons were prompted by provincial falls but next year’s path to an All-Ireland will take a minimum nine steps and 11 if they lose either of their opening matches.

Pitted against Derry in the preliminary round of Ulster, none of the other pretenders to Dublin’s throne have to be primed so early. Although Paddy McBrearty’s injury was colossal, a gruelling campaign from the Ulster preliminary round eventually told for Donegal in the Super 8.

Tyrone may be better equipped to make a stab of it in 2019 than a greener Donegal this year but the task is a daunting one.

Wexford

On one count, the Leinster senior hurling championship is better organised than its Munster equivalent. Compliments to the council for proposing and the counties for backing such a structure that spares teams facing three games in 13/14 days.

By arranging standalone matches on two weekends, Leinster have greatly improved their competition. The three-week gap provided to Kilkenny may even allow them club championship in May again.

However, where Leinster falls down is in the lack of thought put into sequencing of games.

Replacing Carlow with Offaly and every team has the same schedule as last year — champions Galway face Carlow in their opener, then Wexford, Kilkenny, and Dublin. Dublin have the same opening two games — Kilkenny and Wexford — as this year.

Wexford again open against Dublin and Galway but face both away, whereas Galway’s first two are home.

Kildare

Their 2018 season was rescued by taking a stand but if the Lilywhites are still on their feet after a likely Leinster semi-final against Dublin, it will be an achievement.

That’s what is on the menu if they beat Wicklow and Longford. At least they will have built up a head of steam by the time Dublin come into view, yet there is so much baggage to shed.

There’s their awful Croke Park record and the margin of their last three Leinster SFC losses to the boys in blue — in reverse chronological order, they read nine, 19, and 16.

Frank Murphy’s value to Cork remains high

Given he’s been there 45 years, it’s hardly surprising it is taking so long to find Frank Murphy’s replacement.

Clare draw the short straw in both codes

Unlike Páraic Duffy’s fixed date departure as GAA director general earlier this year, Murphy is expected to remain in the role until an appointment is made, which won’t come as a surprise to some. All the same, it should be received with more than an element of assurance to Cork.

Last week, he gave a couple of examples of how sharp his analysis remains.

He couldn’t have been more right about the inappropriateness of U20 All-Ireland finals being played as the new undercards to the senior finals when they are strong enough as standalone competitions. Well, hurling will be, as U20 players can also be senior ones.

His argument about the minor grade being changed was also on the money.

“The minor grade now is not the same in terms of intensity, physicality or interest, as it was when it was U18,” he said.

We were told that the age changed because of the pressures of doing the Leaving Cert, but the Dr Harty Cup is now U19. Why? Because that’s the age at which the majority of students are doing the Leaving.

Whether it’s in an ex-officio position or even as a secretary emeritus with voting rights, Murphy’s expertise should still be called on by the county in the years ahead.

The search to correct quality imbalance

Maybe it’s because Gaelic football finds itself in a state of flux or that there is now such a break after the Championship that we need something to talk about even more so than before but these proposed experimental rules are exercising minds.

Maybe it’s the nature of the rules themselves too or, as one inter-county footballer wrote to us, his belief they are trying to compensate for the stark inequalities of competitions like the Championship where teams like Dublin shouldn’t be facing the likes of Louth and Wexford.

His email concluded: “What I don’t think I’ve seen discussed in many places is that the problems that these rules are trying to solve are in my opinion hugely linked to the imbalance of quality in teams in the Championship.

“We are an intermediate club these days who play our best football when we can play at pace and are running at teams. We don’t set up defensively in the county league or championship but if we didn’t have a tiered county championship and we drew a big club, you better believe we are going to try and shut up shop because we just couldn’t compete otherwise. This for me is the real problem that needs to be dealt with.

“Obviously, it would require a hell of a lot more work than trialling rules during some games in January, but I feel it’s the only way to really solve these problems.”

- john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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