Galway will hardly blow it now, will they?
Surely not, not least because even if they lose in Parnell Park tonight they’ll still progress to the All-Ireland series, provided Wexford and Kilkenny don’t draw, but for the sake of devil’s advocacy, let’s try and construct an argument for Galway to come a cropper.
If so many of their lads played well last Sunday, which they did, and so many Kilkenny lads, bar TJ Reid, fell into the mediocre-to- acceptable category, which they did, then how come Galway only won by a point and with an extra man? Just one of those things, given that some matches take on a life of their own and the visitors were the better team in any case? Probably.
Cathal Mannion will hardly repeat his seven-gun salute. It’s also possible that Johnny Glynn, so quietly effective in Nowlan Park, will be less effective on the basis he requires more game time, while the free-taking may remain an issue until Joe Canning’s return.
However, Galway had that blend of poise and focused pace about them six days ago that bespoke time well spent on the training ground. A team that had been lumbering along before suddenly finding top gear ought to come on a few lengths for the run.
Messing it up against Dublin is something the Galway of a few years back might have done. Not this lot: Since the seven-point defeat to Kilkenny in the 2016 Leinster final, Micheál Donoghue’s team have played 16 championship matches and lost two, both of them by a point. They have their faults, but flakiness isn’t one of them.
Galway won’t be given the same time and space to play their way out from the back they were given in Nowlan Park and as usual Dublin will be as good in the first two-thirds of the field as any team in the country. Also, as usual, it’ll be what happens and doesn’t happen in the final third that may undo them.
Will Wexford score enough to beat Kilkenny?
One player from the post-Rackard era that Davy Fitz could do with? Rathnure’s Jimmy Holohan. Jimmy wouldn’t be running a drag with his marker, but he’d be putting the frees over with 90% — maybe even 100% — accuracy. Not only could they afford to carry him, he’d be the first name on the sheet in the forwards. It’s hard to blame Lee Chin for wanting to be head bottlewasher, particularly if he feels there’s a lack of hands to help out at the sink, but problems from placed balls have been a theme of the Davy era. Chin missed four out of 11 in Salthill last month. Even allowing for the tricky breeze, it’s too big a percentage.
Both of this evening’s protagonists at Wexford Park are stuck in a dimension they’re unlikely to escape from any time soon. You can visualise Wexford going as far as the All-Ireland quarter-finals, but no further; you visualise Kilkenny going as far as the semi-finals but no further. With Wexford it’s the ongoing issue of a dearth of scoring forwards; with Kilkenny’s it’s the post-2016 issue of adequacy, and little more, in too many departments. TJ Reid now knows how DJ Carey felt in the mid-1990s, obliged to hurl out of his skin to keep the water from sinking the boat.
It’ll be a mild surprise if this turns out to be more than a one-score margin. All things being equal, and allowing for the fervour of the crowd, the team with the greater spread of shooters should shade it, in which case the guys in stripes are entitled to favouritism. They also have Richie Hogan and, if Hogan’s intentions when introduced last Sunday were better than his execution, well, his execution may be a little sharper here — and sharper still in a month’s time if Kilkenny are still in the championship.
Will Tipperary go at it hammer and tongs in Thurles?
Could tomorrow be the first of two meetings between themselves and Limerick this summer? Could it, in the event of an away victory, be the first of three meetings between the pair, with the third to come in Croke Park? Whatever the case, Liam Sheedy had double cause to avoid selecting his strongest iteration. Firstly, the heavy lifting having been done, this is an opportunity — an ideal and final opportunity— to rest some of his made men and afford a few panellists the chance to make their bones. Secondly, if Tipp were to field a full-strength side that got overpowered by Limerick’s speed and aggression, what would the fallback plan for a prospective Munster final be?
Now for a word about Noel McGrath… In his younger days, McGrath was not averse to the occasional goal. In his first four championship seasons, he hit three goals, reasonable going for a chap whose staff of life was points from out the field and who has scored from play in 46 of 47 championship outings. Ponder that stat for a moment. It is quite a feat and one that has largely passed unnoticed. The teenage McGrath arrived in senior ranks so fully formed that we took him for granted from the moment the traps opened and, over the course of a decade, he’s continued to rack up the points almost frictionlessly. Along the way, something got lost in transmission, however, and McGrath failed to raise a single green flag from 2013 to 2017.
His goal against Cork last season was his first in five years, his goal against Clare the first since then. What was interesting about that last score was the manner in which he got forward from midfield, a task in theory not on his rota. It may have been a one-off; it may not. If the latter, it holds the prospect of an addition to Tipperary’s armoury. As if they needed another weapon.
Can the Banner at least manage to die with their boots on?
Although the one disappointment about the Leinster round-robin up to last Sunday was the mediocre standard of the fare, at least the weirdos who get off on watching arm wrestles had something to entertain them. The round-robin down south has entailed three disappointments: The plethora of turkey shoots, Waterford’s awfulness, and Clare’s awfulness. The most painful of these has been Clare’s awfulness. The line on Waterford’s graph was already in freefall last summer, whereas Clare came within the width of a Killinan End upright of reaching the All-Ireland final. From that to 0-4 from play against Limerick in 10 months. Oh dear.
One takeaway from the Munster championship is that we, as supporters and observers, are guilty of endowing managers and support staff with capabilities they do not all possess. We assume reflexively that each team is as hungry as the next; that each team is determined as the next; that each team will work as hard as the next; that each manager and his back-up people boast the competence and inspiration to send their lads out in such a suitable state of grace that achieving these targets is a given; and that thereafter the outcome will be decided by a moment of Callananesque or Horganesque individual magic or a cunning tactical switch. All too many games down south over the past month have shown us that we assume far too much.
A small source of comfort for the hosts at Cusack Park is the fact that the Gaelic Grounds debacle took place as recently as last Sunday. They haven’t had a fortnight to brood and thereby risk over-analysing. The subject of whether Clare have underachieved this decade (answer: yes) can wait for another day.
Tomorrow is about hurling from the heart.