Premier natives have everything on the line
Sheedy and McIntyre's futures under scrutiny in face-off neither wanted
Published 24/07/2010 | 05:00
THIS is not where Tipperary thought they would be. Nor is it where Galway hoped to be but, deep down, they always knew it was likely that the last Sunday in July would see them booked in for All-Ireland quarter-final duty.
That's a fairly natural thought process when you're jousting for territory with Kilkenny. What Galway didn't expect was to be meeting Tipperary, who were hot pre-championship favourites to walk straight out of Munster and into the All-Ireland semi-final.
Galway have a good quarter-final record against Tipperary -- two wins in 2000 and 2005 -- but they would still have much preferred to be playing Cork tomorrow. Of course, their dream clash would have been with Antrim but that fell Cork's way.
Tipperary would have fancied Antrim too. Failing that, a rematch with Cork would have been preferable to Galway but it wasn't a possibility since they had already met in Munster.
The defeat by Cork was a major setback for Tipperary and, although they might not have realised it at the time, bad news for Galway too.
If Tipperary had followed Cork's path and lost to Waterford, they would now have the easier quarter-final against Antrim, while Galway would be playing Cork, assuming, as seems likely, that the Rebels beat Wexford and Offaly.
All of which goes to show that a ripple in late May can grow into a large swell two months later. Now, Tipperary and Galway, the second and third All-Ireland favourites at the start of the season, find themselves facing a wave that will sweep one of them away for this year at least.
It could have personal implications too for the losing manager. Liam Sheedy led Tipperary into the undisputed No 2 slot behind Kilkenny last September, close enough to the champions to suggest they were by far the best placed to end the five-in-a-row pursuit this year.
If, 11 months later, Tipperary were to fall at the third-last fence, having re-mounted after tipping over way out on the Munster circuit, Sheedy's tenure would come under scrutiny.
Tipperary can be an unforgiving county so losing their place in the queue behind Kilkenny would not sit well.
As for Galway, the county is dipped in such deep frustration that another big championship defeat would probably trigger the two-year exit hatch for management. Since Jarlath Cloonan finished a three-year stint in 1994, only Conor Hayes (2003-2006 inclusive) has survived as manager for longer than two years (Mattie Murphy's four years were in two separate spells), which scarcely augurs well for John McIntyre if Galway's run without a win in Croke Park extends to five years tomorrow.
It's ironic that the careers of two Tipperary men -- Sheedy and McIntyre -- may well be on the line in a game that will also define precisely where Tipp and Galway stand.
Assuming Cork beat Antrim, the winners of Galway v Tipperary will play Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final -- that is a much more enticing prospect than a clash with Kilkenny.
Both Galway and Tipperary are firing confident flares into the sky in an effort to create the impression that, while their campaigns wobbled earlier on, they are back on track armed with crucial information that will strengthen their second coming.
But are they? Tipperary's implosion against Cork, who were subsequently proven to be less substantial than they appeared in Pairc Ui Chaoimh on May 30, came as a complete shock. And while Tipp have since beaten Wexford and Offaly, it still doesn't remove the doubts that arose after the Cork defeat.
Did Tipperary begin to believe their own hype after losing to Kilkenny last year?
In fairness to Sheedy, he never blamed the questionable penalty awarded to Kilkenny as an excuse, but elsewhere in the county there seemed to be a feeling that Tipperary's defeat was down to circumstances beyond their control.
That was accompanied by an automatic assumption that Tipperary were the undisputed No 2 and that Kilkenny were their only real obstacle this year.
It was dangerous territory and a whole series of landmines exploded on Leeside in the first round of the Munster championship.
Things that had been taken for granted suddenly weren't quite as clear anymore.
Padraic Maher, All Star full-back last year and tipped to retain the No 3 jersey for the next decade, returned to the half-back line after a disappointing league campaign and an even more difficult clash with Aisake O hAilpin.
The half-forward line continued to misfire; midfield hasn't been settled, so Sheedy has had a lot on his agenda over the past eight weeks. Whether everything has been corrected remains to be seen.
Galway had the best possible build-up to the championship, winning the league after losing just one game in the process. Ironically, the defeat was against Tipperary after a dismal second-half performance by Galway.
They led by 0-13 to 1-4 after 32 minutes but lost the remainder of the game by 1-13 to 0-1 in what was an embarrassing collapse.
Still, they recovered and went on to win the league, setting them up for their second tilt at the Leinster title. A big win over Wexford kept the script in order, but it was followed by two games against Offaly that re-opened old scars.
Offaly have made good progress under Joe Dooley but Galway should be taking them out, especially when they opened a decent lead and were facing 14 opponents in the drawn game. They eventually made it home by two points in the replay that was followed by claims that it was the ideal way of fine-tuning for the Kilkenny test.
It was anything but, and it was evident that Galway weren't as coherently constructed as people thought. Indeed, their performance against Kilkenny was a throwback to the dismal old days. They were beaten after 14 minutes when they trailed by seven points.
Yes, they staged a revival in the second quarter but once Kilkenny hit the front, they don't tend to get caught.
Galway managed just seven points in the second half (one from a free and three from subs) in what was a mere training gallop for Kilkenny. They won by seven points without going anywhere near the higher gears.
The disappointing aspect for Galway was their failure to really put it up to Kilkenny as they had done a year earlier. Instead, they had Damien Hayes, one of their best finishers, playing around midfield for much of the second half in what looked very much like a damage limitation exercise, as opposed to a positive initiative to try and win the game.
And why was Joe Canning played so far outfield in the first half? Any wonder Brian Cody looked so calm on the sideline.
Galway have had three weeks to address the various issues but, like Tipperary, they won't have any idea how successful the repair work has been until the pressure comes on tomorrow. Also, again like Tipperary, this is their last chance to rescue the season. They will argue that having won the league title and lost the Leinster final to Kilkenny, their overall campaign has been quite good, but now they must prove it by beating Tipperary.
The stakes are just as high for Tipperary. Lose tomorrow and it's very much a case of two steps forward (2009), three steps back (2010).
Galway v Tipperary in the quarter-final would not have been on managerial wish-lists but now Sheedy and McIntyre have to get on with it. They will bid each other the best of luck before tomorrow's game, knowing that by 5.30, one of them will have revived the season in a meaningful way while the other faces into uncertainty.
The same applies to both squads, because tomorrow's game will probably be the last for some of the losers. That's tough but it's also true. It should concentrate the minds and make for a fascinating encounter.