AIB ALL-IRELAND CLUB SHC SEMI-FINAL:
Portumna (Galway) v Na Piarsigh (Limerick)
Madness, that’s how Na Piarsaigh manager Seán Stack describes the fixture schedule for the All-Ireland club championships.
It’s not the weather, bad as that is, which is causing him annoyance, — it’s the lack of a break for the players involved, one season merging into another as the GAA persists with carrying the final stages of the championships from one calendar year to the next.
Aggravating the situation for Stack is that Na Piarsaigh have a very young side with many players involved with colleges and schools along with county under-age teams. He’s trying to get his team ready for an All-Ireland semi-final but his players are being pulled in several directions at once.
“We’re in the height of the Fitzgibbon Cup and the Harty Cup along with things like Waterford Crystal tournament. Not alone has the problem of burnout with these young players not been addressed, it’s getting worse.
“The same kids are on so many panels – minor, U21, Harty Cup, Fitzgibbon Cup and playing with their club. What must it be like for dual players? Instead of a reduction in the workload of those players it’s been increased with more and more games with the Higher Education League, with the colleges now also in the inter-county competitions every moment is filled.
“For those between 18 to 21 it must be horrendous, so many masters and every one of them fighting their own corner. I’m fairly laid-back but the aggravation between schools managers, college managers, county managers – they all want them playing challenge matches, while we’re trying to prepare for a game it takes a lifetime to reach.
“We have to get on with it, you can’t stop, but really you need a break.”
No break though for Na Piarsaigh this year. “No. We did that two years ago (when Na Piarsaigh last reached an All-Ireland semi-final), took three weeks, and it was a big mistake. It took us a month to get going again and I don’t think we ever got back to where we were.
“Our lads love training, we kept it going, did different type of training for a few weeks but kept working the whole time. From the perspective of getting a team ready for an All-Ireland semi-final, that was better.”
Be that as it may, Seán Stack cannot and will not let any of that negative thinking impinge on preparations for this afternoon’s game against former All-Ireland kingpins and three-time champions (2006, ’08 and ’09), Portumna.
“We’re up against a very, very experienced side, we know that, this is a different breed of animal we’re meeting here. I saw them in the Galway semi-final and final, have seen them again lately — they’re physically more streamlined, better conditioned, mentally aggressive, collectively together. They’re the finished article, getting the last ounce from each other and from themselves.”
If Seán Stack would love to see a true break for all club teams in future in this competition, a break in the weather will do him for the moment.
“I’m praying for a calm day. It won’t be dry but if it’s calm at least, usually the better team wins – the wind can totally distort a game. I’ve seen that so many times at club and county level. If there’s a strong wind, whoever wins the toss has a huge bearing. If your team takes time to settle, if you prefer to defend in the first half, you can choose to play against it and try to hang on to half-time; other teams like to take the wind advantage and build momentum but you’re then risking the situation where the wind dies down, or even changes direction! But it’s hard to gauge anyway what to do, which is why most teams prefer a calm day.”
Calm or not though this one is likely to have some fireworks, a true heavyweight winner-take-all contest.
Portumna v Na Piarsaigh: Head to head
Joe Canning v Cathal King
This is the big one for Na Piarsaigh – holding Joe Canning. Joe has been in midfield, could be at full-forward, where he’d come across hardy Na Piarsaigh full-back Kieran Breen. I think though that canny Na Piarsaigh manager Seán Stack will hand a man-marking role to the flying Cathal King, the instruction being to shadow Joe no matter where he goes.
Cathal is capable of it, but who then though will mark flying Damien Hayes?
Eugene McEntee v Kevin Downes
Veteran full-back on rejuvenated youngster. It’s the big one for Portumna. Kevin is a standout with De La Salle, Na Piarsaigh and Limerick at underage. He suffered a dip in form at both club and county level in 2012 but is back to his absolute best. He and Shane Dowling are the major twin threat up front, Kevin Ryan also a man to watch.
David Breen v Ollie Canning
Centre-back is a new position for former standout attacker David but he made it his own with Na Piarsaigh last year, so much so that few will be surprised if he’s shifted back there this year by the new Limerick management team.
A huge man, commanding in the air, David is also a fine stickman. However he will meet a new kind of challenge here in another man finding a new position former himself.
Multiple All Star corner-back Ollie Canning was one of the finest man-markers in the business but you always sensed there was an attacker waiting to burst forth. Big match-up here.
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