Clare will hope that defeat to Limerick hasn’t gone to their heads.
It’s an unusual situation to be lauded the length and breadth of the country despite coming up short.
How do you, as a player or member of management, find your fire from a position of being the adored bridesmaids? Most usually, defeat forces introspection and an appraisal of your faults, yet the mood music around the Banner is that they’re on the cusp. That’s a dangerous space, one where you may expect things to happen rather than make them do so.
As we saw in the All-Ireland SFC, each losing provincial finalist met their demise in the next round and that presents a challenge for both Clare and Galway — though the latter come into this game with far fewer believers.
The suspensions and subsequent acquittals on a technicality of Peter Duggan and Rory Hayes have been another unwanted distraction for Banner manager Brian Lohan.
The county of Clare rose in a collective hissy-fit at the retrospective banning of their players, and they were right to do so. Not because either player didn’t do the crime, or because any Limerick player had done worse, but owing to an a la carte approach to retrospective banning.
Both RTE and Sky have highlighted moments of indiscipline over the years; some led to bans, others did not.
Again, this episode simply channels further pressure into the Clare camp ahead of their clash with Wexford. Darragh Egan is in season one with the Model County, though he is keenly aware of the Banner’s qualities having coached Scariff in recent times.
Wexford have played Laois, Westmeath and Kerry in three of their last four matches, in stark contrast to Clare’s more punishing top-tier Munster route which twice included Limerick.
Egan won’t have been blown away with his side during last week’s win over Kerry but, like Cork win’s over Antrim, it was all about getting out of dodge.
The big guns will have to come to the party this weekend, and they’re well-stocked in that department with Lee Chin, Rory O’Connor and Conor McDonald.
The truth of the matter is that Tony Kelly is the best player in the pitch — and perhaps on all pitches — and preventing him from adding to his 1-41 in six championship matches against Wexford is a huge consideration.
The Models may have the next-most dangerous attackers in the aforementioned trio, but it would generally be accepted that the bigger weaknesses on the field are also within their ranks. Should Clare have recovered emotionally and physically from their 90-minute war against the Treaty, it is hard to look past them.
Cianan Fahy of Galway was the third man whose ban was thrown out this week, meaning he will be available for the clash with Cork. The sides last met in 2015 in what was the denouement of Jimmy Barry Murphy’s second coming as the Rebels manager.
The power of the Tribe’s forward line was best exhibited that day in how Johnny Glynn marauded through the defence to hit an early goal. If you can’t remember it, picture how Limerick have been brutalising the Rebels, but insert maroon jerseys in place of green.
The frustration for Henry Shefflin is that his forward unit no longer has pigs (a GAA compliment) like Glynn nor leaders like Joe Canning. When the manager spoke after the Leinster final loss to Kilkenny of how he expected his team to come, they just never did.
Will they on Saturday? You could ask the same about Cork. Both sides have shown checkered form throughout 2022, and both have had their minerals questioned.
Yet the feeling is that Cork have shown that bit more. For almost 40 minutes, they matched Limerick and were level with them (albeit before a dramatic collapse), recovered from a shocking start to lose by two to Clare, and have since won away to Waterford, Tipp and Antrim when defeat would’ve ended their season.
Their road trip continues in the familiar field of Thurles, a patch where they have played three times already this season, and there’s little doubting that the pace of Robbie O’Fynn, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman is suited to Semple Stadium.
Patrick Horgan was used as a substitute against the Saffrons and popped over two beauties in the final ten minutes, with his starting replacement Tim O’Mahony involved in the first two goals. All of a sudden, Kieran Kingston has energy and options.
What does Shefflin have? Nobody is quite sure, not least their own supporters who will feel that if the season doesn’t end here, then it most certainly will against Limerick in a semi-final.
The Tribe should have won in Wexford, did claim victory at home to Kilkenny and Dublin, but the fadeout against the Cats in the Leinster final can’t be ignored. They were outfought, which is a big no-no at this level.
While the Banner don’t want to be tripped up by useless praise, Galway need to bottle their hurt and unleash it. For all four, it’s now or never.
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