Cork defeat shows how provincial champions suffer in semi-finals
Former Tipperary captain and coach Tommy Dunne says evidence for change is now inescapable
Cork’s Aidan Walsh, Lorcan McLoughlin and Daniel Kearney tackle Tipperary’s Séamus Callanan during Sunday’s semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Tommy Dunne has questioned the five-week gap between counties’ winning their provincial championship and playing in the All-Ireland series.
Dunne captained Tipperary to the 2001 All-Ireland and has been involved as a coach in both Munster and Leinster with his own county and Dublin, as part of Anthony Daly’s back-room team during last year’s Leinster title success.
The statistics concerning the Munster champions are particularly stark. Just one county in the past five years has carried the southern province’s title through to an All-Ireland final – the Tipp team with whom Dunne was involved in 2011.
Expand the sample period to 10 years and the Munster champions have won just one All-Ireland. The other two MacCarthy Cups that went south were won by Tipperary – 2010 – and last year, Clare. Neither team even reached the provincial final.
Further weight was added to the trend on Sunday when Munster champions Cork were spectacularly felled by Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.
That meant that the inability to reach All-Ireland finals as Munster champions now stretches across four of the active five counties in the province and if Tipperary (2008), Limerick (2013) and Cork (2014) were winning a first title in at least more than five years others to tumble included Waterford (2007 and ’10) and Tipperary (2012) both of whom were experienced teams.
Even Cork, beaten on Sunday, had played in the previous two semi-finals and a drawn and replayed All-Ireland final last year.
“ In my view it shouldn’t have any relevance but the statistics are strongly suggesting that it is relevant and I think something is going to have to be done about it,” said Dunne.
“I don’t like having to say that because you feel like it’s an excuse. Jimmy Barry’s too much of a gentleman to offer it up as an excuse and it’s not the only reason but there is a trend emerging here and it can’t be ignored. The evidence of the past few years is there to support that.
“It’s beginning to suggest that the most beneficial route to September is the one that offers more games at regular intervals. The evidence is there. Kilkenny are probably the only exception to that rule but they’re exceptional anyway.”
With Dublin last year, Dunne experienced the gap between their defeat of Galway to win a first Leinster in 52 years and the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork five weeks later.
“I would have said that Dublin’s preparation for the semi-final was exceptional, absolutely exceptional in terms of being satisfied with what was going on at training, injuries clearing up, a good mental frame of mind and all of that.
“My memories of the match are that Cork started way slicker. In the first 10 minutes they were sharper in front of goal and really slick on the breaking ball. Dublin recovered and hurled really well but came up just short. The margins are so fine at that level that these gaps between matches are coming right into focus.
“Teams will never say it was a factor because it’s not the thing to do after getting beaten. It’s not appropriate because it takes away from the other team’s winning and no-one wants to do that. The other thing is that you could have two teams coming exactly the same way to a game. One might start better than the other for no particular reason. That’s sport; there’s no certainty but over a fair period of time we have a good bit of evidence.”
The most symmetrical All-Ireland championship was the format used in the middle of the last decade when provincial champions didn’t get a bye straight into the semi-finals. Instead eight counties lined up at the quarter-final stage and the winners of each of the four knock-out matches progressed to the semi-finals.
It had the merit of requiring teams at the end of July and start of August to set out at the same time and play the same number of matches – barring replays – if they were to win the All-Ireland. It was discontinued and Dunne doesn’t support any return to the format.
“My feeling would still be if you go through the trouble, pain and heartache and all that it takes to win a Munster or Leinster championship there should be a reward. As a player it’s lovely to win a provincial championship and know you’re in an All-Ireland semi-final and not have to worry about getting knocked out in the quarter-final. . . I’d like to see the provincial champions qualifying for the semi-finals but also getting three or at least four weeks between matches.”
“The problem is that a five-week wait is not really a reward before you play a knock-out championship game against a team that’s been picking up momentum in regular games. . . . How much of a factor is it for champions not to have played in so long? I don’t know but I know that it is a factor.”