Malachy Clerkin: a booming end to the All-Ireland summer

Clare and Galway go again, Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan enter last-chance saloon

Gradually, and then all at once.

Hemingway's line about how you go bankrupt feels on the money here. Nine games left in the GAA summer and five of them happen this weekend. Ballybofey, Killarney, Croke Park, Salthill and Thurles – north, south, east, west and kinda in the middle. After this, everything is in Croke Park. A month to slice and dice those remaining.

Towering over the weekend, Clare and Galway meet on Sunday in the replay of their classic draw last Saturday.

What began the weekend as the poor relation of the two hurling semi-finals turned out to be the best game of the best championship (of, naturally, the bestest sport in the whole wide world). It's obviously asking too much to expect them to repeat the dose in Semple Stadium but we travel in hope, always.


After the initial strategic whisper to the effect that Joe Canning would be fine but Gearóid McInerney not so much, the Galway camp has been tight as a drum all week.

The presumption is that Conor Whelan, Adrian Tuohy and Johnny Glynn will all have shaken off their various lumps to take their places but as is always the case with replays these days, we won't know until everyone converges for the throw-in.

Soon after that, we will know what Clare have in mind. Having stumbled upon the game-saving wheeze of posting Colm Galvin at sweeper when all looked lost in the drawn game, they have to decide whether to stick with what was an emergency measure or go back to their initial game plan. Wheels within wheels, games within games.

As an aside, if they’re still level after extra-time again, the GAA will be firmly in headache territory. Presumably any second replay would come next weekend, leaving whoever eventually comes out the other side of it only a week to prepare for an All-Ireland final. Would they really make a team play four weekends in a row to win an All-Ireland? If not, would they really move it? Croke Park could really do with this one finishing tomorrow.

On any ranking of the weekend's action, Donegal v Tyrone most likely has the strongest claims on second place. The permutations are simple – there are no permutations. If Donegal win, they're in the All-Ireland semi-final. If they don't, Tyrone progress. An old-style championship game, winner goes through, loser goes home.

Tyrone have beaten Donegal in their last two championship meetings but haven’t won in Ballybofey since 2005. Declan Bonner’s team are famously 20 games unbeaten in MacCumhaill Park since 2010 between league and championship. Something is going to give. With Donegal missing Patrick McBrearty and Eoghan Bán Gallagher, the odds favour it going Tyrone’s way. We shall see.

In Salthill, at least one team will be playing an old-style championship game, whether the opposition are of a mind to or not. Monaghan’s season was crystallised by David Clifford’s late equaliser in Clones a fortnight ago – they need to win or draw away to Galway to make an All-Ireland semi-final. They can theoretically lose and still go through but the margin for error is much too slim for them to chance the practicalities of it.

Keeping tabs

In Killarney, the atmosphere will be surreal. Kerry and Kildare will be laid on in Fitzgerald Stadium on a summer’s evening, offering the most gorgeous viewing experience in Irish sport.

Yet you wouldn't be a Kerry supporter worth the name if you were looking at anything other than your phone, keeping tabs on what's going on 200km north. If it's close in Salthill come 7.20 or so, Eamonn Fitzmaurice could streak across the pitch in Killarney and few would pass any remarks.

Oh, and the Dubs are playing in Croke Park on Sunday, albeit in a game that means nothing. Indeed, their game against Roscommon probably ranks third in terms of items of interest on the clár, behind the All-Ireland under-20 final between Kildare and Mayo and the parade of club colours that will take place between matches.

That ceremony is the GAA’s official way of marking the 100th anniversary of Gaelic Sunday. As many will know by now, August 4th 1918 was a day of defiance by GAA clubs throughout the land, standing up for their sport in the face of a ruling by the British authorities that no game could go ahead without their say-so.

Nobody playing football or hurling that day could have known what they were nurturing or what it would become. Weekends like this are part of the fabric of Irish life now but they didn’t have to be. This wasn’t inevitable.

Look what they did.

Group 1 Permutations

If Monaghan win or draw, they go through

If Monaghan lose to Galway and Kerry beat Kildare, it will come down to scoring difference. Currently, Monaghan’s is +3 and Kerry’s is -2.

If Kerry and Monaghan are level on scoring difference, it will come down to which team has scored more in the Super-8s. Currently Monaghan have a two-point lead in this regard (1-32 to 2-27).

If they are still level, a play-off will be required.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times