With the qualifiers reaching their conclusion and the arrival of the business end of the championship this weekend, Shane Ryan gives a few points to note for the coming fixtures.
With 2 quarter final match ups decided, and 50% of those involved new to the stage, can these underdogs continue their excellent progress and make some more history by reaching a semi final? Two counties with a much richer hurling tradition now find themselves in relatively unknown football territory. Whether or not they can progress further might be best answered if you can answer another question or two. Are they simply happy to be there or do they genuinely believe they can win their games? In Tipp’s case I’d say the answer to both is yes. Obviously they’re happy to be there, and why would they fear a Galway team that’s equally as unused to the big stage as Tipp are? With Tipp missing a few regulars you could have forgiven them for writing off another season of lost potential. Instead they reached a Munster final, beating one of the big two (Cork) along the way, and after losing to a superior Kerry side, regrouped to beat favourites Derry as well. This team will not go quietly.
With Clare on the other hand, I’d wonder do they have a belief or just a hope that they can beat Kerry. Most people probably wouldn’t even give them the latter. Kerry have already accounted for Clare in Munster at a canter. Clare can certainly take positives from that defeat, they did manage to cut through the Kerry defence and create goal chances. The only problem now is that I don’t expect Kerry to be cantering any more.
No disrespect to Galway but I’d give Tipp a reasonable chance of halting their progress, although they’ll have to play to their absolute best. Clare on the other hand will need more than a mighty performance, they’ll need a miracle.
Out of the eight teams appearing in Croke park this weekend, there are three who play here so often it’s almost like a second home ground for them. You’ve also got a mixture of medium Crokes experience to very low experience. It’s the ground everyone wants to play in, the flagship stadium, the biggest stage, but will it make a difference this weekend? Donegal, Kerry and Mayo have been here so many times there won’t be any surprises for them. Westmeath and Cork are no strangers to the ground, whereas Galway, Tipp and Clare are very new. On the face of it Donegal, Kerry and Mayo will all expect to win, although Mayo on recent form may have more difficulty than the other two, particularly if Westmeath can bring their 1st half performance against Dublin for the entire 70 minutes. How much is pitch knowledge worth though? With the confidence, comfort and familiarity it brings I’d say it’s worth a considerable amount. All three will also consider themselves All Ireland contenders, and probably are in my book, so they should advance.
Westmeath and Cork have been here before, but I think this is as far as they’ll go. It gets very interesting with Galway and Tipperary. Both have a lot of talent, are young and inexperienced at this level and stage. This could be the closest game of the weekend. Whoever handles it best will triumph. Tipp had a minor football final here a few years ago, more recently Clare played the league final here, but I think Galway will have a bit too much for them, and Kerry will extend their quarter final record to 15 wins in 17 seasons.
3. Dual Players
This weekend sees five dual players in action in the qualifiers and quarter finals. While all five only have one code to focus on, for three of them anyway they had a season of juggling and compromises to get them to this stage.
In the past week, for example, Josh Keane from Tipperary has played a football qualifier against Derry, an u-21 hurling Munster final against Waterford and has the football quarter final on Sunday.
Last weekend, Podge Collins lined out for both the Clare hurlers and footballers on consecutive days.
Also, Keith Higgins has already won the Nicky Rackard Cup with Mayo hurlers.
While not strictly dual players, I’ve included Aidan Walsh and Alan Cadogan as they’ve been welcomed back to the football fold in Cork and will still be involved in both codes in the same season.
The day of the dual player is clearly not over just yet, and hopefully won’t be in the coming years. To be able to compete at the top level in either code is a huge achievement, to get there in both codes is something that’ll always impress me. You’ll always get people mentioning the dangers of burnout, but if a player is good enough and wants to do it, all that’s required is cooperation and planning from two managers. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not an easy thing to get, managers are very protective of their players, but I never liked the idea of someone being told they can’t do something they love.
Clearly they’ve found a way in Tipperary, Mayo and Clare. A question I’d love to have answered though would be how many dual players would we see if all managers were open to it? I know on my own county there are some highly talented hurlers on the football squad. How well could Dublin hurlers do if they had Diarmuid Connolly, Ciaran Kilkenny, Cormac Costelloe and Tomas Brady (to name just a few) at their disposal? Dublin, as in most counties, has one code with a greater pull than the other. The prospect of a greater chance of success will always have a big bearing on players decisions and is very hard to resist. But so too can the possibility of leaving potential unfulfilled, and if the three counties mentioned can do it, why not anyone else?