ALL-IRELAND SHC QUARTER-FINAL
GALWAY v TIPPERARY
(Croke Park, Tomorrow 4.0, live RTé2)
AT the start of summer, this pair were almost universally acclaimed as the two most likely pretenders to Kilkenny's throne.
Now they find themselves slugging it out on the last Sunday of July, striving to make the last-four while the outside world wonders aloud if their vaunted reputations were ever founded in reality.
Tipperary, so the new consensus goes, were being judged on the lofty standards set last September, not on this year. Galway, so the sceptics now all agree, were being dressed up as contenders purely because they blitzed Cork in the National League final -- a dubious form guide at the best of times.
Now, though, both teams have been reassessed and neither currently looks capable of halting Kilkenny's seemingly unstoppable drive for five.
God, when you put it like that, is there any point in either turning up at HQ tomorrow? Why prolong the agony?
There are plenty of good reasons, though. Firstly, whoever emerges from this potential fire-and-brimstone battle will suddenly start feeling a whole lot better about themselves. They will have found momentum at just the right time.
There is also the welcome prospect of avoiding Kilkenny at the semi-final stage. Victory for Galway will see them paired with Waterford as there cannot be a provincial final repeat at that juncture. Tipp would also face the Déise unless Antrim shock Cork, in which unlikely scenario there would have to be a semi-final draw.
So there you have it, one uplifting performance and suddenly the winners will quietly fancy themselves to make it all the way to September.
Liam Sheedy may query the above reference to momentum, suggesting his side have already regained their equilibrium after the late May calamity in Cork. Since then, they have regrouped, redrafted the team pretty drastically and recorded back-to-back wins over Wexford (by a 14-point landslide) and Offaly (by a comfortable six) last weekend.
Galway don't have any such advantage: they are still trying to get their heads around their limp second-half performance in the Leinster final. When you see that result in cold print, a seven-point defeat by Kilkenny almost looks half-respectable but the nature of it was pretty damning. Manager John McIntyre described the performance as "flat" and that it being kind to their third-quarter implosion.
In a nutshell, some familiar Galway failings -- the inability to win their own puckout, an over-reliance on Joe Canning and Damien Hayes for scores -- killed them in Croker that day.
Even while snaffling important scores in the earlier Leinster rounds, Canning had also been shunted to the periphery for long spells and this problem was exacerbated against those noted space-compressors, the Kilkenny defence. Nor did Galway help their cause by leaving Canning outnumbered and isolated during the second half.
The Galway talisman made an interesting point in an interview this week: "I haven't watched the replay of that match so I don't know exactly what went wrong. But it was one of those days -- I didn't hurl well, I know that myself."
Now, many commentators will argue that Canning and all his colleagues should have pored over that Kilkenny DVD as one of the first steps towards redemption. We're inclined to agree, yet our own hunch is that Canning's own wounded pride will kickstart a telling response on the field.
Whether that will be enough to kickstart Galway's season is open to serious question. McIntyre has replaced two members of his malfunctioning half-forward line, but the recalled Eanna Ryan and Cyril Donnellan haven't sparkled this year either. Midfield should be stronger for David Burke's return from suspension -- and stronger again if Ger Farragher relocates his early-summer form.
As for Tipperary, they have altered every line of their team since being comprehensively out-thought and out-fought by Aisake O hAilpín & Co two months ago. It should also be noted that they dispatched both Wexford and Offaly with considerably more ease than Galway had earlier managed against the same opposition within Leinster.
Ergo, it would seem, Tipp have recovered from that Leeside disaster. Moreover, in Noel McGrath, Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly, they retain an inside trio with the class and craft to punish any sign of further vulnerability in the Galway full-back line.
And yet, call it a hunch but no more, we think there is one more kick in this Galway team. A case of now or never.
ODDS: Galway 13/8, Draw 10/1, Tipperary 4/7
GALWAY: C Callanan; D Joyce, S Kavanagh, O Canning; D Barry, T óg Regan, D Collins; G Farragher, D Burke; E Ryan, C Donnellan, A Smith; D Hayes, J Canning, I Tannian.
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; D Fanning, C O'Mahony, Pádraic Maher; B Maher, D Young; G Ryan, Patrick Maher, S McGrath; N McGrath, L Corbett, E Kelly.