You wonder at times if some playwright or other isn’t penning storylines for the GAA.
Characters and crowds consumed by the drama, plot twists aplenty, heroes becoming villains, with others delivering themselves from despair to glory. It’s positively Machiavellian.
Take these past few weeks alone. Henry Shefflin plotted the downfall of his old master and native county as manager of Galway, and found himself on the wrong end of a grimace from Brian Cody. The straining of a supposedly unbreakable bond from their glorious days together with Kilkenny.
Liam Cahill passed on the opportunity to manage Tipperary in order to remain with Waterford. He duly beat his own kind in round one at Walsh Park, but this weekend relies on the Premier to do him a favour against Cork.
Young players that he shaped for minor, U21 and U20 glory, but whom he decided against leading as seniors in 2022, may decide his fate just months later. It’s not that you couldn’t make it up, it’s just that it seems as if it has been.
The flipside being that if Clare — who are through to the Munster final and may rest myriad players — beat Cahill’s Deise and Tipp overcome Cork, then a major scoring-difference shift could put the Premier through at Waterford’s expense.
Outside of the Banner, every team playing this weekend has something to play for, which speaks to the success of this championship structure. The downside being that these teams are huge assets, and some will be eliminated for the year after just a few weeks.
We almost certainly won’t see Tipperary v Kilkenny for a third season running. Imagine going three years where the Premier League has set it up so you might not see Liverpool v Manchester City. Absurd.
Even so, the plotlines continue to pit men against their own. Mattie Kenny knows that a win or a draw against his native Galway will ensure progress into the All-Ireland series or a Leinster final respectively.
Given the manner in which they were mistreated by Kilkenny on their own turf last weekend, it would seem fanciful to suggest that Galway would be denied at least a draw in Salthill, which is all they need to make a provincial final.
As a player, Shefflin met the Dubs on eight occasions and each time was on the winning side. The games he missed through injury in 2013 were a draw and a replay win for the capital.
Galway is considered more of a hurling stronghold than Dublin and yet the latter has historically held the whip hand in this rivalry — winning seven, losing three and drawing one of 11 meetings.
Kenny has been in charge of Dublin for those two most recent fixtures, and won both. In 2019, the Tribe went into the final group game as Leinster leaders, and yet 70 minutes later were off on their jollies as their defeat combined with a Wexford-Kilkenny draw dropped them down to fourth position.
The Dubs were missing half a team, saw Eoghan O’Donnell off injured early, but kept on keeping on to win by four. As the crowd surged onto the pitch on the final whistle, the Galway lads didn’t yet know their fate, until supporters and mentors equipped with mobile phones shared the bad news.
This time, the Tribe’s season isn’t on the line. Shefflin’s high-scoring troops have a scoring differential of +49 after four games, while the Dubs are -6 against the same opposition — yet only a point separates them in the one table that matters. Kenny’s charges have amassed just a single goal from those outings — against bottom-placed Laois — and their inside forward line showed buttery fingers and weak stomachs against The Cats last time out.
Since Galway somehow managed to turn victory into a draw against Wexford, they’ve performed at a high level. Seven goals underlines their threat, with Conor Whelan perhaps now only fully returning to fitness.
In his two full seasons as Ballyhale Shamrocks manager (2020-21 was cut short by Covid) Shefflin won the All-Ireland club title on each occasion, posting some eye-catching tallies along the way.
In the two seasons before that, the All-Ireland club titles were secured by Kenny with Dublin side Cuala. In many ways, this is the managerial duel many would love to have seen at club level.
These men will have admired each other’s work from afar, but when they get up close the sense is that we will see a home win for Galway. The venue, the form the Tribe are in, the free-scoring forwards in their ranks, and the absence of pressure given that their season is not on the line.
Dublin need a huge performance after suffering such a shellacking against Kilkenny. Anything less and Kenny’s jobs will come under scrutiny. He has tried to mould a new Dublin with a team of silkier hurlers, but perhaps at a cost of the physicality that had served them so well in previous years. Evolution isn’t coming in a straight line.
After being both out-hurled and out-fought by Cody’s bridge, they need a response — failing that, they will need Kilkenny to deal with Wexford for them.
This one is about restoring belief for Dublin, and ensuring their players are ready for the next act.