IT’S the big conundrum for club teams facing into the AIB All-Ireland championship semi-finals over the next two weekends — how have they handled the winter break.
And, the consensus among the four hurling captains who came together in Dublin yesterday for a media briefing session is that there’s simply no guarantee of being able to perform up to standard.
Damien McClaren, captain of the Loughrea team which plays Antrim champions Cushendall in Mullingar on Sunday (1pm) agrees that this would be a particular concern.
“There’s a long gap between competitive games, especially since our Connacht final was a bit of a mismatch.
He rejected the view that they have a better chance of making it to Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day because of being drawn against the Ulster champions.
“That’s a dangerous misconception. Cushendall have been here before, and on more than one occasion.
“We’re making our debut at this stage.’’
Nevertheless, among the public at large, the probable winners should emerge from the other semi-final which pairs Toomevara with Ballyhale Shamrocks in Portlaoise on Saturday— the type of contest which Toomevara captain Tommy Dunne is relishing as they go in search of their first All-Ireland title.
“It’s a disappointment that we haven’t won a title, considering how much we have won in Tipp — ten since 1992 and three Munster championships.
“All I know is that when we got there in 1994, Sarsfields beat us by two points.
“We were down to 14 men but leading most of the way until Joe Cooney scored a great goal.
“In 2004, we played an experienced Athenry team. Eugene Cloonan got a couple of goals. They outmuscled and outfought us. Overall, you could say that (our lack of success) is down to a combination of things — a bit of inexperience, a bit of bad luck and under-performances on some occasions. It would be great to rectify that, but it’s not easy.’’
Shamrocks hold three All-Ireland titles, the last of which was won in 1990. It hasn’t easy for them either, to get back to a position where they can challenge for another. Captain Tom Coogan accepts that the high standard in the Kilkenny championship has been one of the major contributory factors.
Another — and probably the ‘real’ reason — is that it took some time for the club to re-build a winning combination after the team built largely around the Fennelly brothers broke up. The current squad features nine players who figured on a winning Feile team against Toomevara.
“It is a long time since we were involved, but there was a good break between the team of the eighties and the present bunch. It took that length of time to put a squad of players together again capable of getting to this level. There’s great credit due to the lads in the club who worked so hard over that time in building up the under-age structures.’’
Coogan agrees that it’s difficult to anticipate what kind of a display can be expected from their side. “It’s kind of hard to get yourselves going again. We took a few weeks off before Christmas. You have time to re-charge the batteries, but you never really know how it’s going to pan out.”
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