Seán Moran: Six thoughts at half-way stage of GAA season

Championship marked its mid-point in sombre mood after a downbeat weekend

It’s easy to understand why Waterford didn’t want to play the Munster final in Thurles. But it didn’t work out for them at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick either. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

It’s easy to understand why Waterford didn’t want to play the Munster final in Thurles. But it didn’t work out for them at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick either. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Sunday will mark the half-way point of the season. Last weekend there was a perceptible slump in public mood after Tipperary’s power play apparently blew the hurling championship back five years, while in a rain-soaked Salthill a football apocalypse was glimpsed as the previously cheery and feckless Westies of Roscommon and Galway went over to the dark side of defensive paranoia.

Here are six contemplations on reaching the turn in the road.

1. Whatever you do, don’t panic.

There’s no doubt that the Munster hurling final was calamitous for Waterford. The thrashing by Tipperary was exactly as heavy as the provincial final of 2011. Back then the losers rebounded aggressively to defeat Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final and then lose respectably to Kilkenny.

The problem this time around is that the current team were thought to be in the ascendant and not fending off the inevitable. Teams can recover from trauma. Nine of the players who appeared for Donegal in a 14-point demolition by Cork won an All-Ireland three years later.

That was of course under new management, so maybe more encouragingly for Derek McGrath, he can look at Tipperary six years ago: devastated by Cork in a 10-point beating, they went on to win the All-Ireland through the qualifiers. Like Waterford, that Tipp side had been a coming team and more relevantly the defeat – awful as it was – was a freak diversion from a steady trajectory.

2. Location, location, location

On one level, it’s easy to understand why Waterford didn’t want to play the match in Thurles. Trying to prise the opposition out of a comfort zone made sense, but the Gaelic Grounds isn’t unknown territory for Tipperary, who had a massive win there last year against Limerick. Neither is it a cherished place in Waterford’s hearts. They hadn’t played championship hurling there in eight years.

In fact, the last two high-profile matches played by Waterford in Limerick as a neutral venue were that big defeat by Clare in 2008 that ended Justin McCarthy’s tenure and a lost league final four years previously.

3. We might as well play out the rest of the hurling season

Second Captains

Point one can also act as a caution for Tipp. The county’s one All-Ireland since 2001 came in response to a humiliation, not as the linear conclusion to a triumphant season.

In years gone by, their most eye-catching exhibitions of shock and awe have not always led to All-Irelands. Five years ago the 21-point punishment beating of Waterford was the high point of the season, followed by a scrappy win over Dublin and defeat by Kilkenny.

Beating Limerick by 24 in the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final didn’t prevent another loss to Kilkenny. There are reasons to believe that Tipp are different this year – Michael Ryan will know that they’ll need to be.

4. We will play out the rest of the football season

Again Dublin are odds-on favourites but there is a sense that – conservatively – any of three teams could win. The odds also favour the champions meeting Kerry in the semi-final. The brave talk about Kerry’s lack of pace and age profile sounded convincing in the bright April sunshine after walloping them by 10 points in the league final.

Revisiting it at the onset of autumn may be a more anxious experience.

Tyrone have been impressive in negotiating their way to a first provincial final in six years and have prompted rumblings about how, having developed steadily in the past couple of seasons, they could be the team to stretch Dublin.

5. To Hell and to Connacht

Why was there so much revulsion at the Connacht final? In these pages, Keith Duggan said that the match would be soon forgotten – a sensible position, undermined only by the rush to indict the counties for crimes against aesthetics.

Two things, m’lud: the weather was appalling and both teams had reason to be nervous. Roscommon were on a poor run, having laboured since their league campaign tailed off. They haven’t won Connacht since 2010 and although a season in Division One was overall a positive, they would have expected to play Mayo in the provincial final, and the stakes were raised by Galway’s unexpected progress.

Galway, for their part, hadn’t won Connacht since 2008 and having toppled Mayo after five years as the top team in the province, they knew the pressure was on to make that win count.

Teams play defensive football for different reasons.

In this case, it looked like an extreme anxiety not to lose. Roscommon were roundly condemned for the timorous nature of their play having equalised at the end and then engaged in fearful handpassing. But uppermost in both teams’ minds was the desire not to lose at the last minute and taking chances with a slippery ball in marshland conditions was not going to happen with the prospect of a replay on the table.

6. Did Wexford do something?

There was a plaintive irony about how Wexford achieved the historic result of beating Cork for the first time in 60 championships. During the week on Newstalk’s Off the Ball, Art Foley and Ned Wheeler had reminisced about 1956 and the former’s save from Christy Ring in front of the second highest attendance at any All-Ireland hurling final.

That sequence was ended not in a packed Croke Park but a largely deserted Thurles. The elation was further compromised when the general reaction appeared to be momentary jubilation for Liam Dunne’s beleaguered team followed by a rush to kneel at the grave of Cork hurling.  

Yet it should be remembered that two years ago after eliminating then All-Ireland champions Clare, Wexford went on to defeat Waterford. A week ago you would have speculated that there was a universe between the counties, whereas now Wexford will feel it’s more like a brisk walk across the bridge in New Ross.

smoran@irishtimes.com

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.