Shane Stapleton: Leinster final looks like being a similar story
In his weekly GAA column, Shane Stapleton previews a weekend of provincial finals including the Leinster final at Croke Park.
There’s a common saying in pre-match huddles which amounts to the underdogs attempting to gee themselves up for battle with a heavyweight. It amounts to saying that the opposition bleed red and go potty brown, "the same as ourselves", which can have a rallying effect on certain individuals.
It’s just that once the initial storm has passed, the superior side tends to wrestle control, and too often in recent years this has been the reality for Kildare against Dublin. You must rewind 22 years for the Lilies’ last championship win over the Dubs, when current managers Glenn Ryan and Dessie Farrell were the captains.
It took a replay for Ryan and co. to come out on top, as it had when they landed their first win over Dublin in 26 years in 1998, showing that quite often these famines aren’t ended with ease.
As they say of a striker badly in need of goals, sometimes you just need one to go in off your shin or backside. Five years ago, Daniel Flynn was one-on-one with Stephen Cluxton, and erred when presented with a chance to break the monopoly. Lady Luck was smiling elsewhere, and the Dubs powered on.
Speaking with the star forward in 2021, Flynn told me that the biggest disappointment of his career was “missing the goal chance in the Leinster final in 2017… yeah…” It clearly irked him, so, like any journalist spotting a scab, I had a little scratch.
“Cluxton made a decent save,” I offered, to which Flynn gave a wry smile and said, “do you think he did, yeah?”
I came clean and said he had the skill to find the net, to which the forward concluded: “that eats at me from time to time. That would be the biggest disappointment, I think.”
Last year, Meath ran the Dubs close but faded during injury time. In the final, Kildare never really tested Dublin across a drab 70 minutes where they adopted a defensive approach under Jack O’Connor.
Current manager Ryan has been accused of the opposite in recent times, of being cavalier in their 1-21 to 2-15 win over Westmeath last time out, so it will be interesting to see how they fare this time around at Croke Park.
O’Connor, meanwhile, will be in Killarney picking up a routine Munster final win over Limerick. The Dromid Pearses native effectively advertised for the Kingdom job while still in situ with the Lilies last winter, and his side have yet to be tested in the local waters. Very few feel that will change upon the odd throw-in time of 3pm on Saturday.
Perhaps the Munster council decided they couldn’t put it up against the European Cup club finals of rugby or soccer, and perhaps they are right. But on a weekend where the touch-paper needs a shot of gasoline, it feels as if Gaelic football is instead going under a bucket of water in a shaded corner.
That goes for the Leinster final too, which throws in 15 minutes after Leinster v La Rochelle does, and just a few hours before Liverpool v Real Madrid.
“I wouldn’t be a soccer man whatsoever,” Davy Burke, Kildare’s Under-20 All-Ireland winning boss of 2018, told me this week. “But there are a lot of Liverpool fans in Kildare and I can tell you where they’ll be: they’ll be in the pub, in Paris, or somewhere watching that game on Saturday evening.”
According to data analytics group Adaptive & Co, Liverpool have 443,500 fans in Ireland, and it will tell in the stands. Cross-code fixture clashes irk players and supporters alike, there’s no point in saying otherwise. It will take from the atmosphere and, should either game be as one-sided as in the past, those absent will feel as if their point has been proven.
On Sunday, Derry v Donegal could well play out the game of the weekend. The Oak Leafers haven’t claimed the Anglo-Celt Cup since 1998 when Joe Brolly cracked in 1-2 against their upcoming opponents.
Had Derry manager Rory Gallagher been born a half mile out the road, he might well have lined out for Donegal instead of his native Fermanagh. He has managed all three aforementioned counties to Ulster finals, an achievement worth nothing.
Across two stints, he gave six years coaching and managing Donegal, and 11 years ago helped Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Paddy McBrearty and Co end a 19-year wait for an Ulster final win… against, of course, Derry.
The lattermost were on their knees when he took over just before Covid, but he has pulled them up by the bootstraps. Denying Murphy, McGee and McBrearty 11 years on from aiding them would be quite an achievement.
Ending that 24-year Derry famine would be quite special but it pales in comparison with what Billy Lee’s Limerick side hope to achieve. They haven’t lifted the Munster crown since 1896, and sadly no case can be made for same.
Connacht is much harder to call given that Galway and Roscommon met each other in an entertaining see-saw of a Division 2 league final a couple of months back. Anthony Cunningham is a former Tribal County hurler but will be plotting the downfall of his own with the Rossies.
Padraic Joyce is one of Galway’s best ever footballers but getting the most out of modern phenoms Shane Walsh and Damien Comer is his challenge.
Key players at their peak, the time is nigh for this group but, one thing’s for sure, Roscommon don’t fear them. No more than the relationship between Derry and Donegal.
A shame the same can’t be said in the Leinster and Munster finals, where the pre-match huddles may be held in hope rather than expectation.
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