Long wait for semi-final will challenge Cuala and Slaughtneil
Frank Flannery managed the last team to eliminate the Dubliners from the championship
Oulart-the-Ballagh manager Frank Flannery is well aware of the pitfalls of being first-time All-Ireland club semi-finalists. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho.
On a very busy weekend for the GAA, Saturday sees the second All-Ireland hurling semi-final taking place.
The last team to eliminate the Dublin club from the championship was Wexford’s Oulart-the-Ballagh whose manager Frank Flannery is well aware of the pitfalls for first-time All-Ireland semi-finalists, as both Saturday’s teams are – allowing for the fact that about two-thirds of the Slaughtneil team that reached this year’s football final will again be on duty.
He was no stranger to negotiating the gap between province and All-Ireland as he had previously done so with Cork camogie champions Milford.
Oulart had won their provincial title for the first time and after a sequence of dispiriting defeats in the final.
“You have great momentum, great confidence and the feel-good factor but there are challenges. It’s a fantastic achievement but there are distractions like the round of individual awards for players in the provincial championships and coping with preparations over Christmas. It’s really dealing with the winter break – how to approach it and how to peak again.”
He says that the Milford experience taught him a valuable lesson about challenge opponents.
“For instance it taught me that college teams are often better opponents in challenge matches. When we played Na Piarsaigh they went for county teams while we went for Fitzgibbon teams. My reason was that the Fitzgibbon teams would be more up for it and have more passion whereas a county team might be in the middle of heavy training and that they wouldn’t rate you.
“We played UCC and Waterford IT and there was more of an edge to it.”
In Thurles, although outsiders, Oulart took the eventual champions to extra-time before losing narrowly.”
He believes the postponement may pose a difficulty for the Dublin champions but he believes that they are in a good position to go all the way in the championship.
“Hard to know. It’s a long gap, 11 or 12 weeks since Cuala played in a provincial final and it will be interesting to see how Mattie [Kenny, manager] copes with that but I would say that whoever wins have a better chance of winning out because they’ll be closer to the final.
“I think Cuala will win it out although I don’t think they’ll have it all their own way at the weekend. There’ll be the tactical battle and the danger of over-thinking it and the Slaughtneil mental strength at this stage – I wouldn’t bet against them if they’re hanging in at the end.
“But I think Cuala have really improved in the last 12 months. They’re more broad-minded in how they approach the opposition, last year they were more inclined to concentrate on their own game. Now they’re more willing to adapt and more controlled, less of a party about them than they might have been last year.”