In Leinster, we can’t see Dublin slipping up against Offaly in Croke Park, not after what happened to them last year against Antrim
SO who’s going to win it all? At this juncture, and despite Dublin’s success in the league, Tipperary are the team to beat. Another issue this year will be Hawk-Eye; there were several controversial ‘scores’ in big games last year, awarded and not awarded, but Hawk-Eye’s goal-line technology has been tested in Croke Park this year and results are eagerly awaited. Hopefully it will have proved successful, but if it has, what will we be left to argue over?
Trial by TV, that’s what; yes, it raises its ugly head year after year, RTÉ’s The Sunday Game perennially accused of scape-goating players and counties when highlighting another off-the-ball dastardly deed. But it is a factor only because the GAA itself is so slow to react to such deeds. A citing commissioner, that’s what’s needed for all these big games; they are, after all, the GAA showcase games and as such should be held to the highest standard. The GAA’s own man in a separate studio with instant access to all controversial incidents, statements quickly issued if there is any matter to be investigated, then those investigations concluded as expeditiously as possible.
Injuries will also be a factor in this year’s championship, a growing factor if the various casualty lists during the league are any indicator. It used to be that players tore a hamstring or perhaps suffered a broken bone in the hand from having it in the wrong place at the wrong time, but increasingly it’s shoulders, hips, groins, knees, ankles, the result of all the jarring, twisting, turning, tumbling. It’s the nature of the sport, however, that as it became more professional in preparation, as fellas became bigger, faster, more powerful, then these injuries were going to follow, as sure as night follows day.
CAST your mind back to the beginning of 2010, and you had two — just two — outstanding contenders for the All-Ireland. Kilkenny, going for five in a row, and the team they pipped (some would say robbed) for the 2009 title, Tipperary. Those was the duopoly that would fight over the All-Ireland title come the first Sunday in September, and everyone was proven right. Kilkenny and Tipperary DID contest that All-Ireland final, and Tipperary did what they had threatened to do the previous year and ended the long and glorious reign of probably the best team ever.
However look at this year, and now, with the league over, what a difference, a welcome difference — a whole host of live and likely contenders. They are led by Tipperary, the reigning champions. Kilkenny — who should have all their big guns back by then, after an injury-hit league campaign — are still very much in the frame, but what now about Dublin, the new Allianz League champions, what about Waterford in Munster, the reigning provincial champions and now with a deeper and stronger panel than ever before; what about Galway in Leinster, with so much to prove after a poor league campaign but having come so close to beating Tipperary last year? And look at Limerick and Clare in Munster, both with a plethora of burgeoning stars, what about Offaly and Wexford in Leinster, capable of turning over any team on their day; and what — finally — about enigmatic Cork, so many changes from game to game in the league yet so nearly qualified for the final, never beaten by more than a single score.
What we’re looking at here is a levelling off, Kilkenny coming back to the pack, Tipperary going slightly ahead, but a slew of others coming on strong.
THE first big shock could come as early as Sunday week, in the first round of the first championship; Cork did it last year, in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and it wasn’t so much the victory as the margin of victory, the manner of victory — whopping, convincing. Could it happen again? Definitely — Tipp have failed to beat Cork in their last three meetings, so head-to-head form favours the Rebels. Staying in Munster, Limerick could also make it very tough for Waterford, and Clare will be no pushovers for the winners. Could very well get at least one of those shocks to come off but it will still be a surprise if it’s not a Waterford/Tipp final.
In Leinster, we can’t see Dublin slipping up against Offaly in Croke Park, not after what happened to them last year against Antrim, and they will almost certainly face Galway in one semi-final — anything can happen there. In the other semi-final, it will probably be Wexford coming through the prelims, to face Kilkenny in Wexford Park; here, if the Kilkenny big guns aren’t all back (Shefflin especially), we could have a shock of considerable proportions, Kilkenny finally beaten in Leinster, even before the final, and by lowly Wexford. Again though, you’d be placing your safe bets on Kilkenny, though Dublin or Galway could come through the other side.
A lot of people will say Dublin but — league champions? You could hardly call them bolters. What of Waterford? Well, they ARE reigning Munster champions, so again, hardly fits, and the same could be said of Galway. Cork. So, if you want really long odds, if you’re really brave, why not Limerick? They’ve swept all before them in Division 2, which would put them level on current form with the bottom two in Division 1, at least. Can Donal O’Grady do with them what he did with Cork and take Limerick to an All-Ireland final in his first season? We wait and see.