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Ciarán Murphy: Limerick bring fire and emotion, but they don’t rely on it

Eventually emotion burns itself out - a lesson Waterford, Cork and Tipp already learned

Many of us watched Pep Guardiola beg his players to stay icy calm in front of goal, while appearing to completely lose his own mind throughout Tuesday’s Champions League 4-3 semi-final first leg win, and I can’t have been the only one thinking - is that really helping, Pep?

If the manager’s demeanour was a bellwether for the team’s emotional state, it certainly didn’t look great.

It got me thinking to what extent emotion can play a part in team preparation. For the footballers of Galway and Donegal last weekend, it appeared as if both of them were mad as hell, and they weren’t going to take it anymore.

For Donegal in particular, it seemed they had just had enough. They were many smart people’s dark horses for a couple of years, but losing the winter Ulster final of 2020 to Cavan seemed to permanently puncture something for their erstwhile acolytes.


Eventually emotion burns itself out, and you return to the mean

Going down to Tyrone in Ballybofey last year then, after Michael Murphy missed a penalty and then got himself sent off, it seemed to back up the worst assumptions about this group - that they would permanently flatter to deceive.

Add to that the highly-charged farrago surrounding Armagh’s players being freed to play by the farcical workings of the GAA’s disciplinary process, and you had a fairly potent emotional cocktail.

For Galway and for Donegal, they have had just one date in mind for the last six months, since the draw was made. From that moment they were boxers preparing for a prize fight, not soccer players patiently putting in the work to prepare for a nine-month season. In that situation, emotion can be priceless.

Managing the next couple of weeks, as they decompress and then prepare to face teams who played their spring football in Division 4 in their provincial semi-finals (and the attendant questions about their ‘professionalism’ in dealing with that threat), is a rather different emotional test to the one being faced by every hurling county this week.

In Munster, Cork are one game into the championship and on the precipice already. For a team as inconsistent as they are, emotion seems to play an outsized role. Limerick bring fire, but they don’t rely on it.

Tipp played emotionally against Waterford first time out, but this is where the schedule is unforgiving. Eventually emotion burns itself out, and you return to the mean - and as evidenced against Clare last time out, Tipperary’s mean is not good enough, not this year.

Shefflin would love to be able to impart some of his own mental steel into the Galway team he's trying to build. But that's not how management works

Liam Cahill might secretly look back on last weekend's defeat to Limerick as the moment that realism, not idealism became the order of the day in Waterford. If their problem in the past has been a surfeit of emotion, then a sobering evening spent in the Gaelic Grounds might come in useful down the line.

Mattie Kenny still might not be sure of what exactly he has with Dublin, but he can be sure they have four points after two games. They got themselves into a real muddle against Laois, and then nearly threw away a commanding situation against Wexford, with both those performances suggesting that pre-match expectations can be either a burden or a relief for this team.

But they’re in pole position now to get through the group stages, and possibly into a Leinster final.

It is still more likely than not that joining them in the All-Ireland series will be Galway and Kilkenny, who of course meet in the stand-out tie of this weekend.

Henry Shefflin is facing Kilkenny as a manager for the first time, with a team that has already drawn a game in this championship that his Kilkenny team would never in a million years have drawn.

To beat the team Shefflin used to play on, you had to be at least six points better than them. The suspicion remains that if you’re six points worse than this Galway team, you’ve still got a pretty decent chance of getting something out of the game.

Shefflin would love to be able to impart some of his own mental steel into the Galway team he’s trying to build. But that’s not how management works.

Remember how we used to think of that Kilkenny team of the '00s, as remorseless, emotionless robots - the Stepford Wives, to borrow Donal Óg Cusack's inflammatory phrase. Tommy Walsh, Eddie Brennan and others have put the lie to that after their retirement with their bright and informed punditry, but Brian Cody still remains a cipher to be unravelled.

He is prone to the odd display of emotion on the sideline, but that face is still a mask few can penetrate. Shefflin himself struggled to read Cody’s emotions throughout his playing career.

So you can imagine already the handshake between the two on Sunday - they’ll meet on the sideline, both postures straight, both faces inscrutable. Whatever emotions they are feeling, they’ll have already passed onto their players.

And they’ll both realise that for all the blood and thunder flying around, the team that keeps their composure will probably win the day. On Sunday, and all summer.