Dara Ó Cinnéide: Jack Sheedy will be a popular man as minnows enter battle

Longford manager Jack Sheedy is unlikely to opt for an ultra defensive formation when his charges attempt a giant-killing act against Leinster champions Dublin in Croke Park tomorrow.

We’re trying hard/To make something of what we have/We’ll never amount/ To anything [from ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream, Soak’s debut album released this weekend]

While trying to make the best of what they’ve got as they take on Tipperary and Dublin respectively, Waterford and Longford must surely know their place in the food chain this weekend.

We can bellyache all we want about the inherent inequities in the provincial championship at this time of year but there are worse things going on.

Given all the revelations and allegations of corruption in FIFA, it’s been a bad few days for sport so it’s not entirely days of wine and roses at the top end of food chain either.

The Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, who died last month, loved football for its ability to survive corruption and maladministration.

Long before Sepp Blatter became the behemoth he is today and light years before Raheem Sterling began wrangling over his 100k a week contract, Galeano was pouring scorn on such people and such behaviours.

“Professional football,” Galeano said, “does everything to castrate that energy of happiness, but it survives. And maybe that’s why football never stops being astonishing. As a friend says, that’s the best thing about it – its stubborn capacity for surprise.

"The more the technocrats programme it down to the smallest detail, the more the powerful manipulate it, football continues to be the art of the unforeseeable.

"When you least expect it, the impossible occurs: the dwarf teaches the giant a lesson, and a scraggy, bow-legged black man makes an athlete sculpted in Greece look ridiculous.”

It would have been interesting to hear Galeano’s views on the Munster and Leinster football championships. Where is the capacity for surprise and the art of the unforeseeable in Semple Stadium and Croke Park this weekend?

It is quite obvious from speaking with football folk in Waterford this week, that they see themselves as the longest of long-shots as they head up to Thurles (6/1 is what the bookies say) and even the language being used by their manager, Tom McGlinchey, is that of a man scrambling for the highest rock away from the rising tide.

You know you’re in trouble when a manager starts reflecting on the league. But so it was with McGlinchey: “We could have very easily won those three games. There was only a kick of the ball in all of them.

"The positive thing to take out of it is that we didn’t give up in any of the games. The attitude and application was excellent. Even in the games where we knew we were mathematically out of it, we tried new players and gave us food for thought for the championship.”

These are the things that all managers must convince their players of at this time of yearwhatever the reality.

The reality for Waterford is that unless Tipperary have taken a backward step, the Déise, smarting from a flurry of punches in the league, are about to walk into a haymaker this weekend. Tipperary are a good few steps ahead of most lower tier sides in terms of hunger and ambition.

Their selection - with Ciarán McDonald back in the fold and the likes of Colin O’ Riordan, Steven O’Brien and Michael Quinlivan emerging as some of the best young footballers in the country these past 24 months - is as strong as it has been at any time in recent years.

Were it not for two away defeats to the sides who got promoted from Division 3, Armagh and Fermanagh, Tipperary would be playing their league football in Division 2 next season.

Their last competitive game against relegated Wexford can be discounted because they would have known at that stage that there was no promotion on the cards and thus an experimental side featured none of O’ Brien, O’ Riordan, Comerford, McDonald, Austin, Quinlivan and Fox, all of whom will have key roles tomorrow.

Tipperary were always a different championship proposition and remember that this was the side who blew Laois out of the water when going ten points up in the first half of last year’s 3rd round qualifier game, and who put 17 points on Longford the previous week.

All they are missing is a small bit of consistency and that sprinkling of belief which a good run at U21 level is bound to have given them.

Longford appear to have recovered well from that mauling in July and face into Croke Park with only that league final defeat against Offaly as the one blip on their chart since.

They did manage to avenge that defeat where and when it mattered, in championship football a fortnight ago, but, like the Christians facing the lions, they will be under no illusions heading into their very own damnatio ad bestias in the colosseum tomorrow.

The ancient Romans considered this practice a spectacle but the lopsided Leinster Championship hasn’t been much fun since Meath put five goals past Dublin five years ago.

It is highly unlikely that Jack Sheedy will set up his team to play a game that they have never played or practised at high intensity so, while we can expect Longford to have some sense of defensive responsibility, they have neither the will nor the wherewithal to engage in a tactical game that might frustrate Dublin.

At all times in his writing, Eduardo Galeano was “trying to reveal or help to reveal the hidden greatness of the small, of the little, of the unknown - and the pettiness of the big.”

Before they forgot how to dream, footballers in counties like Longford and Waterford knew an awful lot about the hidden greatness of the small, the little and the unknown.

There was a time when they could face into a championship game full of hope that they might expose the fallibility and the pettiness of the big.

Now their cause seems impossible and almost hopeless.

There could be an awful lot of prayers said to Saint Jude in Waterford and Longford this weekend.

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