Two to tumble as Munster standing undermined

For Munster football, a chastening weekend lies in store. Irrespective of what materialises at the Athletic Grounds and Semple Stadium tomorrow afternoon, two from Clare, Cork, and Tipperary will suffer relegation to Division 3.

Two to tumble as Munster standing undermined

For Munster football, a chastening weekend lies in store. Irrespective of what materialises at the Athletic Grounds and Semple Stadium tomorrow afternoon, two from Clare, Cork, and Tipperary will suffer relegation to Division 3. What it means is that Munster representation in the league’s top two divisions will be reduced to just two next year, a figure which compares poorly with the other three provinces.

Even if Roscommon are relegated from Division 1 tomorrow, Connacht will still have two counties sat at the top table in 2020 and three in the top 16. As for Ulster and Leinster, promotion for Down and Laois, who currently head the Division 3 table, would see their numbers across Division 1 and 2 swell to seven and four, respectively.

Even take last year’s inaugural Super 8 where Kerry was the sole Munster county involved, further indication that the quality in Munster is lagging behind other provinces. Was it a case that the 2016 championship, where Clare negotiated three rounds of the qualifiers to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals and Tipp advanced to a first All-Ireland semi-final since 1935, was an outlier summer for the province? Neither county has since progressed beyond round three of the qualifiers.

Such has been Cork’s year-on-year decline since falling out of Division 1 in the spring of 2016, it does not come as a major surprise to see the Rebels fighting relegation to the league’s third tier. As for Clare and Tipperary, though, it was only 12 months ago they were challenging for inclusion in Division 1, finishing in the two spots below promotion. Tomorrow, both could be relegated at the end of their meeting in Thurles.

Clare manager Colm Collins, speaking to this paper earlier this week, was adamant the all-Munster make-up of the Division 2 relegation scrap did not equate to falling standards in the province.

“That conclusion can and probably will be drawn. But I wouldn’t agree with it,” he said.

“I honestly don’t think there is anything between the teams in this division. The two teams that will go up, whoever they may be, Tipperary and Cork are well capable of holding their own and beating those two teams.”

Of the four games Clare have come off second best in this spring, the margins of defeat have been three, six, three, and five. From that viewpoint, the Banner can’t really argue with their current standing.

Tipperary, for their part, haven’t been helped by injuries to key players, with 2016 All-Star Michael Quinlivan making his first appearance of 2019 last weekend. Paul Maher and Paudie Feehan were two more to mark their return from injury at Newbridge. They remain without regular half-backs Bill Maher and Robbie Kiely. Manager Liam Kearns claimed earlier in the league that had he his full complement of players fit and available, Tipperary would be a match for any Division 2 side. The reality, however, is rather different and Tipperary may not survive even if they better Clare tomorrow.

“Hopefully, we can turn up and perform, but Clare are tough and again, all these teams are at full strength, we are not,” said Kearns.

Central to Tipperary and Clare’s progression in recent years has been their climb from Division 4 to Division 2. League success during this period laid the foundation for a series of encouraging championship campaigns.

The danger is that whoever falls could become mired in Division 3, unravelling the steps forward taken.

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