KIERAN SHANNON: 2016 Gaelic football season has had its share of shocks and romance

He just may be the most realistic dreamer or the most idealistic realist in Gaelic football.

When Colm Collins took over Clare in the autumn of 2013, he inherited a county that had been stuck in the bottom division for 10 years.

But instead of setting a goal of just getting out of that division, he told his team he wanted to aspire to being a top 16 team in 2014.

Not just to finally get out of the division but look to have a meaningful run of the qualifiers and be a team bidding to build on it further in the years ahead.

They duly got out of Division Four, won a few games in the championship and only a late point by Emmett Bolton deprived them of a trip to Croke Park that summer.

That off-season Collins again laid out a vision. Sometime over the following two years they’d win promotion to Division Two and make the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Preferably it would happen for them in 2015. It possibly could take until 2016. But if they were suitably ambitious and hard-working enough, it was there for them.

It was a masterclass in goal setting — finding a goal that was both ambitious and realistic.

Now it has come to pass. They’re through to the All-Ireland quarter-final — on merit, just like their neighbours and rivals, Tipperary.

That’s why we have to object to some of the comments there about Kerry’s possible — probable — route to an All-Ireland semi-final.

For sure the system should be more equitable and better. But consider for a moment if they had beaten a Cork or a Laois or a Roscommon or an Armagh en route. Would the objections be as strong now?

Tipperary beat Cork, a Cork team that could very possibly take Donegal next Saturday, a Cork team that last year reached a league final, beating Rory Gallagher’s team in Croke Park. They also beat Derry — in Breffni Park, a Derry team that beat Cavan there a week earlier.

Clare have beaten a Laois team that beat Armagh and a Roscommon team that lit up this year’s league, drilling the likes of Donegal and Down in the process.

To us the twitterati are being a bit condescending to Tipp and Clare and a bit too reverential to Ulster and prone to suffer from what we’ll call Cavan-Breffni Syndrome.

For sure, some of the routes the Ulster teams have had to navigate to even reach their own provincial final has been savage over the years.

But sometimes it can be overestimated as well.

When Mayo were routinely winning Nestor Cups under James Horan, Ulster commentators could devalue the achievement, as if having to play Cavan in Breffni or Fermanagh in Brewster was tougher than having to play Galway in Salthill when it wasn’t.

No, Clare and Tipp are there on merit, all right. But the twitterati are right — there is something wrong that when Clare finally get to play championship in Croke Park, it’s against Kerry again.

When Limerick faced a similar draw in 2011, we cited a brilliant phrase Sean Moran of The Irish Times coined when Fermanagh were pitted against Tyrone in the 2003 All-Ireland quarter-final.

It was like a kid winning a ticket to Disney World, only to realise the school bully was there as Fermanagh were duly bullied in 2003, just like Limerick were in 2011.

Clare will not be bullied. That Limerick outfit was actually the last shot of finer teams they had in 2008-2010 while Clare continue to be on an upward curve.

But it would be a stretch to think they could pull off something like Fermanagh did the following year after being hosed by Tyrone when they shocked Armagh in 2004.

A mechanism should be restored to minimise the number of repeat fixtures in a given championship.

The idea of Clare-Galway would have excited neutrals.

Clare-Kerry doesn’t.

But Galway-Tipp does.

We had to have a bit of a laugh to ourselves when The Marty Squad made the remark after the Connacht final replay about Galway’s tremendous record in Croke Park.

They haven’t won a game in the place since 2001 while neighbours Mayo this weekend should make it six years on the trot they’ve won a championship game up there.

But we do get what Marty meant. Croke Park is made for the forward line Galway have.

Ray Silke used to refer to the venue as a playground for the likes of Joyce, Savage and Donnellan and you can easily see the likes of Comer, Walsh and Cummins thriving there as well.

We are constantly being told it has been a poor year of football. But in Clare and Tipperary we’re getting novelty we could only have dreamt about a couple of years ago — take 2012, when all eight quarter-finalists were those we’d all predicted back in May, when all eight sides were either in Division One or playing in it the next year.

Galway may not win this year’s All-Ireland, but the sense we get from them is that they could be making the kind of move Donegal and Mayo did in 2011 — winning their provincial title and a game in Croke Park to establish a platform for consistent All-Ireland contention for the next few years. They might even make an All-Ireland final this year.

A key word in football is gearing — getting that balance between defence and attack right. The Clare hurlers didn’t have it right.

The Donegal footballers no longer have it right. Galway have it right. Tight at the back, football and mobility in the middle, and sharp-shooting, hard-working forwards upfront.

Mayo next month could still come back to avenge their defeat in Castlebar and at the same time yet still rue the fact they allowed Galway have notions of winning Connachts and All-Irelands in the foreseeable future.

Tipp-Derry was the game of the summer so far. Tipp-Galway could be by the end of the week, and then Tyrone-Mayo the week after.

It’s wrong to say it’s only now the real championship starts — 2016 has had its share of shocks and romance — but the quality will go up a serious notch now.

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