Clare must rediscover lost energy to see off Wexford
Published 12/07/2014 | 02:30
Why have Clare been so flat? Where is the energy and drive of last year? Are they going to regain full momentum?
If searching for the answer to those questions occupied much of Davy Fitzgerald's time after the defeat by Cork last month, it will have consumed every waking moment since the close call against Wexford last Saturday.
He will know that Clare are lucky to still be in the championship. Wexford put themselves in a great position to pull off their biggest championship win for a long time when they went 10 points ahead after 18 minutes and, while the Clare revival was well under way by the time they had Podge Collins sent off a few minutes before half-time, his dismissal was another unexpected bonus for the visitors.
Clare's style makes the loss of a player less damaging than for some other teams, but 14 v 15 greatly increased the workload. Clare's response was impressive and proved that whatever other aspect of their game is misfiring, there's nothing wrong with their spirit.
It's a good starting point for the massive test in Wexford Park but is no more than that. An off-key performance was exploited by Cork in the Munster semi-final but not by Wexford, even if they did play very well at times. However, they didn't make it count on the scoreboard as much as they should.
Wexford's structure has become much more compact and reliable under Liam Dunne and they now have players who are capable of matching the best.
Lads like Lee Chin, Eoin Moore and Andrew Shore were immense in the air last week while Liam Og McGovern, Paul Morris and Conor McDonald prospered in attack.
What Wexford now need is to get a big win behind them to accelerate the maturing process.
You can be going the right way without necessarily getting to the destination because something else intervenes, so when the road opens up you have to put the boot down.
Wexford will see a home game with Clare a week after coming so close to winning in Ennis as a glorious opportunity to drive on, which it unquestionably is.
A word of caution – Wexford Park didn't do a whole lot for them against Dublin last month so don't expect too much from home comforts today either.
Games are won on how a team performs, not by where they play. There's no doubt Wexford's confidence will be up after last Saturday but it needs to be accompanied by a more even performance.
They must also be cuter. The way Seadna Morey was allowed to bound in and score a goal ahead of the Wexford defenders when Tony Kelly's penalty had been stopped would have exasperated Dunne. However they manage it, backs must always be first to the ball in that situation.
Wexford will win unless Clare return to last year's levels, which involves several players doing much better than they have so far this season.
There's no way of knowing if that's going to happen but on the basis that their spirit is still very much intact, the rest may follow in what is a season-defining game. I'm backing Clare to make it.
Tipperary will probably have it easier against Offaly. Tipp are right back in the groove after their win over Galway and will have a major say in the destination of the All-Ireland title.
Naturally, as a Galway man, the result last Saturday disappointed me but once the game was over I was pleased for Eamon O'Shea, a great hurling man who has taken unfair criticism.
Most of it came from Tipperary people who, incidentally, have also been ridiculously hard on Seamus Callanan.
Both O'Shea and Callanan – and indeed many others – were vindicated last Saturday.
Stage set for Rebels to end long wait
If Limerick retain the Munster title tomorrow, it will be among their sweetest Munster successes.
They beat Tipperary and Cork in the Gaelic Grounds last year so to double up in Thurles and Pairc Ui Chaoimh this summer really would be something special.
Full credit must go to TJ Ryan and the squad who never lost focus after Donal O'Grady's departure in April. That came after a shocking performance against Galway in the league and, amid all the trauma, it would have been be easy to allow the season disintegrate.
Instead, Ryan took full control, the players responded and Limerick were ready to motor.
Tomorrow, they will hurl with their usual mix of directness and power, neatly wrapped in total honesty. They need to assert themselves around half-back/midfield in order to test a Cork defence which still has question marks against it.
There has been something of a quiet revolution in Cork with newcomers all over the field this year and, so far at least, it has worked. I fancy Cork to end their unusually long wait for a Munster title.
It will be nostalgic day as the last big occasion in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. I always loved going there as Galway manager but then it's a very hospitable venue as I discovered some weeks after the 1986 All-Ireland final when we were playing Cork in a league game.
I was suspended for comments about the standard of refereeing in the final, where Cork had beaten us, and probably shouldn't have even been with the Galway team.
Anyway, I ignored the ban, carried on as usual in the dressing-room and walked down the tunnel not knowing what to expect.
Would I be asked to leave the pitch area? Not at all. A Cork official came over with a chair for me to sit on, telling me to take no notice of any one and he'd get me a cup of tea if I wanted it.
They know how to welcome people in Cork, suspended or not!
Draw from hell no help to Cunningham
Should Anthony Cunningham stay or go as Galway manager?
Naturally, he will come under scrutiny and there will be calls for his departure after three years but I won't be joining in.
Yes, there were disappointing aspects of last Saturday's cave-in against Tipperary but they can be worked on by Cunningham.
Changing manager for the sake of it is not a good idea. Neither is changing players for the same reason but the Galway panel will need a shake-up.
Are there better players in the county than we saw this year? You can never be sure until they get a chance but if it's a choice between an untried player and someone who has been there for quite some time without reaching the required level, then you've got to go with the untested option.
Galway got the draw from hell after losing to Kilkenny. Those who want Cunningham out might ask themselves this: how many counties would have suffered a similar fate if they played Kilkenny and Tipperary in seven days?