Shannonside rivals must embrace the fear

Clare/Limerick manager Davy Fitzgerald/ TJ Ryan was under increasing pressure last night in the wake of last Sunday’s Munster championship exit. 

The county’s disappointing defeat led to strong criticism on social media and calls for Fitzgerald/Ryan to be replaced.

But Fitzgerald/Ryan received full support from county chairman Michael McDonagh/Oliver Mann, who said: “One or two little things would have won it for us on Sunday. We played well and were a bit unlucky. I appeal to our followers to get behind the manager and give him and the players the support they need in the qualifiers. We haven’t suddenly become a bad team overnight. This is not a time for panic.”

You can just visualise it, can’t you? One team or the other will fall at the first fence and one manager or the other — either the guy who led his county to the most stunning of MacCarthy Cup victories 20 months ago or the chap who, a wet week in the job, led his county to within a puck of a ball of last year’s All Ireland final — will be all kinds of useless. It’s the ultimate inevitability of our age. Death, taxes and idiots on Twitter.

Such being the times we live in, where there are no longer defeats but disasters, any appraisal of tomorrow’s tribal primal scream of an occasion should begin with a plea for contextualisation. Look: barring a draw, one side will be disappointed afterwards.

The sooner they come to terms with this certainty and make peace with it, the less fraught and bitter the inquest.

Losing to the neighbours, however painful such reverses are, will not constitute the end of the world. It will categorically not constitute a pretext for a jihad against the vanquished manager.

A pretty good team will win tomorrow and a pretty good team will be beaten. That’s about the height of it. Playing well and losing narrowly will be no cause to bring down hellfire and damnation on the ranks of the defeated.

Remember too that this is 2015, not 1995. The first-round cut is no longer the deepest and hasn’t been for a long time now.

It could turn out that tomorrow’s winners will go on to be the 2015 All Ireland champions. Equally, it could turn out that tomorrow’s losers will go on to be the 2015 All Ireland champions.

Shannonside rivals must embrace the fear

Exhibit A: the 2013 Munster semi-final. Cork 0-23 Clare 0-15.

All that said, in big-picture terms Limerick’s requirements are slightly less pressing than Clare’s. The latter need to get a “Business as usual” sign up over the front door asap and to convince us — and themselves — that last year was, like that series of a long-ago TV show set in Texas, all a dream. Limerick’s season, on the other hand, is about consolidation and entrenchment, about reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals again, irrespective of the route they take, about remaining a top-four team.

Hang around the lobby long enough and in a couple of years’ time perhaps the best of 2014’s minor crop — is it too early to describe them as a gang who in the end will be better off for not having lifted the Irish Press Cup? — will push them over the finishing line.

In stylistic terms, the contrast couldn’t be more marked. Davy Fitz purveys molecular gastronomy; TJ Ryan does bacon and cabbage. Nothing wrong with that. Limerick are at their best when they do bacon and cabbage and last year they did it very well. The foundation stone for their run was the fact they knew the kind of game they were attempting to prosecute — not every team does — and were comfortable with it. 

They went long when it was right, they went short when it suited and they mixed it up nicely. They didn’t go long the whole time, they didn’t go short for the sake of it and they didn’t fall between the stools. It was crisp, it was wristy, it was whippy and it was uncomplicated without being lumpen.

To point out that they didn’t wind up winning anything is to miss the wood for the trees. A last-minute fumble of a greasy sliotar in David Herity’s goalmouth and they were in the All-Ireland final. The important bit was that Limerick in 2014 were, for the first time since 2007, as good as they could be. Their task this summer is to repeat the feat.

They’ll probably start tomorrow by subjecting the Clare full-back line to a fusillade of head-high balls. There’s a few teams out there at the moment who could do with some bloodymindedness in defence. Kilkenny, Tipperary and Limerick are not among them; Cork, Dublin and Clare, the latter normally good for the concession of two goals per game, are. Their priority here is to defend first and hurl second.

But the Banner will ask questions that other teams don’t, even without the services of their most precise and rigorous chief, Colm Galvin. Limerick face the now-eternal question of how to combat Tony Kelly when he chooses to roam. 

Easier to legislate for is Shane O’Donnell’s influence as a get-and-give guy, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Limerick either plonk a spare defender in front of him to sever the supply line or ensure the half-backs sprint back with their men and get the hook in at the optimum moment. Or both, indeed. What will Clare’s Plan B entail if they’re unable to play one-twos with O’Donnell?

You’ll want a verdict. You’re not getting it. Sorry. Not today. Not this match. Not these contestants. It’s too impenetrable a puzzle, and anyone who calls it right with confidence is either a genius or, more likely, a supremely accomplished spoofer.

The last couple of seasons have thrown up more draws than the previous few.

If Championship 2015 is as wide open as it appears, it’ll disgorge even more of them. Very possibly starting tomorrow.


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