Time for quarter-finalists to heed Corinthians and show championship ambition

When St Paul wasn’t writing letters or travelling to Damascus or being struck temporarily blind or undergoing conversions or generally being a misogynistic old sod, he occasionally dispensed a nugget of good advice.

The one to his old chums the Corinthians, for instance. “Be ambitious for the higher gifts.”

Would that Galway and Clare had respectively heeded his advice earlier this month. They didn’t, but we’ll forgive them this once. Would that Galway and Clare heed his advice tomorrow. Fail to do so and their own fans won’t forgive them.

Be ambitious for the higher gifts. In the second quarter of the Leinster final Galway might have been but weren’t. In the space of 14 minutes they hit seven points for the concession of one, yet not once did they try forcing Eoin Murphy into making a save.

Fair enough: take your points and blah dee blah. But look who they were facing. The crowd who every day they go out hit 21, 22, 20-something points. The crowd that Tipp coldly and logically planned to assassinate through the medium of goals in 2010 – and will plan to do so again on September 4th if things come to it – on the basis that they wouldn’t kill them with points. Jabbing them with a pencil, however sharp, will not hobble Kilkenny. Only a couple of whacks with a very heavy, very blunt instrument will achieve that.

Let’s imagine for the sake of it that Cathal Mannion, instead of settling for his point, had gone in with one of those chances. Headed straight for the striped ramparts, barrelled past Joey Holden and Robert Lennon and whoever and rocketed a shot beyond Murphy’s reach.

Instead of what did ensue, Galway’s five-point lead after 33 minutes being pared to a three-point lead at half-time, contemplate what might have ensued: an eight-point lead for the underdogs after 33 minutes being pared to a five-point lead at half-time. Far from an insuperable disadvantage for the All-Ireland champions, obviously, especially with Richie Hogan about to come on and make the second half his own, but if nothing else they’d have been made to sing for their supper.

It was not dissimilar with Clare versus Limerick the following Saturday night. Nine points off the reel in the second quarter had them six up and cruising at the break. A green flag on the resumption would have killed off wounded opponents. Clare couldn’t summon up the sinews for a sustained assault on Nickie Quaid’s goal and were — preposterously, on the balance of play — left hanging on in the depths of injury time. Ten lengths the better team and they won by a length and a half.

Work the goalie. It is one of the lessons of the age.

Tipperary won the 2010 All-Ireland final with goals. Clare — had they forgotten? — won the 2013 All-Ireland final replay with goals. Kilkenny don’t wield the dagger half as often as they used to, but when they do deploy it these days they slide it in to maximum effect at the optimum moment.

If Clare and Galway seriously aspire to an appearance at Croke Park in September they must know they won’t get there by points alone.

Be ambitious for the higher gifts, lads.

Tomorrow’s showpiece is to some extent a tale of two managers. The one who’ll be absent, as surely even Davy will be, is extended best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. The one who’ll be present is extended a few sympathetic words for the fallout from the Leinster final.

A certain amount of lazy talk attended Galway’s defeat three weeks ago. It shouldn’t have, but lazy talk by definition is easily obtainable. Look: losing by two or three scores to Kilkenny is what this group of Galway players do and have been doing for a long time.

Seven points separated the sides going into injury time last September. Seven points separated them in last year’s Leinster final. Nine points separated them with ten minutes to go in Tullamore two years ago before Galway bludgeoned their way straight down the middle to gain the unlikeliest of draws. Eight points separated them when normality was restored in the replay the following Saturday.

While one can condemn the Galway players for possessing an inflated opinion of themselves (Anthony Cunningham surely enjoyed his tea on July 3rd), one can no more condemn them for failing against Kilkenny than one can condemn the Ireland of Ciaran Clark and Glenn Whelan for failing last month against the France of Pogba and Griezmann and Giroud. On the contrary; Galway achieved precisely as much as the formbook said they were entitled to achieve. Small earthquake, nobody injured.

What Micheál Donoghue does now is obvious. He starts putting his own stamp on a team he inherited. The question surrounds the timeframe.

Against Kilkenny he brought on Andy Smith, Fergal Moore and Cyril Donnellan as subs. The latter duo having birthdays in early July, the week after the Leinster final, meant the trio had a combined age of 97.

Will Donoghue delay the inevitable by way of a perfunctory rearrangement of the deckchairs tomorrow? Or, far from waiting till next February, will he try short-circuiting the process and take a chance with a left-field XV tomorrow? Ambitiousness is not solely the preserve of players.

The boss also has the Joe Canning situation to puzzle out. In his last three championship outings against Kilkenny the Portumna man has exhibited a kind of genteel decline, from his goal in last year’s provincial decider to a couple of fine points in the All-Ireland to nothing from play three weeks ago.

The goal was sensational, of course, but there isn’t an Oscar category called Outstanding Cameos. There is an Oscar category called Best Supporting Actor. It’s been a while since Canning troubled the voters there.

The gates of Pearse Stadium were locked on Tuesday night. We’d love to know if Canning was tried at centre-back. That’d be a left-field gambit alright and would be exactly the kind of dice roll to send a couple of hundred volts through the collective. Which or whether, expect Galway to put the ball up in the air and seek to horse Clare out of it.

Another manager will be in the spotlight tomorrow. Unlike Donoghue, Derek McGrath’s team will be expected to perform and to win.

Much nonsense too attended the aftermath of the Munster final. All that petty schadenfreude, all those clumsy attempts at wish-fulfilment. Oooh I hate the sweeper system, now it’s got its comeuppance, ha ha ha!

Waterford’s collapse wasn’t a death blow for the sweeper system and it wasn’t some doctrinal gut-punch to everything McGrath believes in and has built. The losers simply performed horribly. Nothing to do with the system, everything to do with its operators.

McGrath’s cross-examination of himself in the meantime will have been educational. Were Waterford overtrained? Were they undertrained? Did he allow himself believe things were so going well as to end up taking his eye off the ball? Were their heads in the right place? Was the mantle of favouritism — with the pundits if not with the bookies — too much for them at this stage in their evolution?

Yes is clearly the answer to that last one. The real damage was done not in the second half but in the first half. Ten wides altogether and three points missed in the space of 45 seconds. With those misses the heads went and the air slowly seeped out of the balloon. Waterford are still in the position where most of the shafts they loose are required to hit the target.

McGrath spoke afterwards of a return to basics. It is human nature to reach for a comfort blanket in times of stress. But tomorrow is no day for Waterford to pull everyone behind the walls or overthink themselves into fearfulness. They merely need to do what they normally do. Just to do it better.

Open the shoulders. Go for it. Be ambitious. The Corinthians would approve.


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