Wednesday 21 February 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Double Munster success a huge victory for honest football over adversity

Gary Brennan celebrates with supporters after Clare’s victory. Photo: Brendan Moran
Gary Brennan celebrates with supporters after Clare’s victory. Photo: Brendan Moran
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Gripe number one: Last week Kildare and Laois played in the Leinster minor final. Kildare won easily. "So what?" you might say.

The "so what" is that there is a back door for first-round losers. Laois and Offaly, who were beaten in the first round, met in one semi-final while Meath, who beat Laois and Dublin, had to play Kildare in the other semi-final. A narrow loss after extra time meant Meath were out while Laois get another chance as losing provincial finalists and qualify for the All-Ireland quarter-final.

The Leinster Council, in its wisdom or complete lack of it, penalised a winning team and gave an unfair advantage to a first-round loser. The correct semi-final pairing should have been Kildare v Laois and Meath v Offaly. No big deal for most people but a minor team getting to a provincial final are guaranteed an extra match and a minor team can develop a lot with an extra month's training and games.

Gripe number two: The provincial championships are sacrosanct.

On that basis beaten finalists should be entitled to a home draw for their next qualifier game. It would also mean a bigger crowd (just look at the poor attendance in Cavan yesterday).

Still, a home venue was unlikely to save Roscommon and thank God for Clare. They have given the championship an injection of energy, enthusiasm and, worryingly for those who talk about county football as hard work and sacrifice, Clare seem to be enjoying themselves. They have pace, skill and big hearts.

Roscommon looked a ragged, miserable outfit and the curse of the six-day turnaround hung over them from the beginning. The lack of discipline was extraordinary for an inter-county side at this stage of the championship, it was more in keeping with a junior club team in a league game in early spring. They must have set a record for high tackles.

They were unfortunate in some ways to lose Sean Mullooly, who tried his best to get sent off but there was nothing in the tackle he did walk for. Referees should realise that every free is not a yellow card. Yet Roscommon could have been down to a soccer team or less as they played more man than ball.

The day belonged to free-spirited Clare who attacked Roscommon from the off and ensured they had no time to recover from any mental fragility that was there. They ran at the Roscommon defence with great pace and could have had more goals than the two from David Tubridy and Jamie Malone. Gary Brennan ran the game for the whole first half and he deserves his shot at the big time in Croke Park, he has been a wonderful servant of Clare football.

He will get plenty of assistance from Graham Kelly, the Collins brothers, Dean Ryan, David Tubridy, Eoin Cleary and Malone, who had a great game. Yet all of them were totally honest in approach and hunted in packs, they were like men on a day off from the bog and wanted to enjoy the whole experience. They might even have been allowed a few drinks last night. In the quarter-final they will play with abandon and cause plenty of problems.

Roscommon must wonder what happened to the team in the Allianz League that ran up a huge score against Cork, beat Kerry in their own back yard and ran Donegal off the pitch. They have to wait until next February now to figure out was that just a mirage. Their kicking of the ball was atrocious and they looked like men who wanted it over. It just shows how hard it is to recover mentally in six days.

They probably would not have beaten Clare anyway and the Banner now continue on their joyful journey while playing a very attractive brand of football. In a championship with little in the way of quality or excitement Clare have injected a bit of va va voom. Hopefully it will continue.

In the other qualifier match in Kingspan Breffni Park, Derry, as is their wont this year, took a long time to get the engine warmed up. Tipperary, playing with the wind, put Derry under pressure on their kick-out and raced into a five-point lead with Michael Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney and Philip Austin causing the Derry backs plenty of trouble, even with Derry having Danny Heavron in a sweeping role. When Heavron pushed forward he cut through the Tipp backs and on one of those runs he off-loaded to Mark Lynch who half-volleyed a beautiful, quality goal. The Derry midfield of Conor McAtamney and Niall Holly improved as the half went on and pressing the Tipperary kick-out paid off.

Derry led by a point at half-time, the first time they were ahead at the break in this year's championship. Derry keeper Thomas Mallon saved a certain goal at the start of the second half and gradually Derry seemed to be taking control. Then Mallon slipped in making a routine clearance and gave the ball to Kevin O Halloran, who buried it.

The tempo of the game changed again. Derry pushed up and left a lot of room at the back and they still conceded short kick-outs to Tipperary. Maher and Fox drove forward for Tipp and went five up, it could have been a lot more.

At that stage Derry emptied the bench and it worked with points from the Bradleys, and when Eoghan Brown finished a goal it looked as if Tipperary's goose was cooked. Yet this was a game of ever-changing fortunes and there was plenty of more drama to come as Tipperary kicked the last three points, two of those fantastic efforts from Sweeney, the composure of Tipperary at this stage of the game was their trump card. It was really a case of performing under pressure. Sweeney, O'Halloran and Quinlivan were best when needed most, even if the latter two need to see their barber quickly.

This was tough on Derry's Heavron, who was brilliant throughout, he had to go off in the last few minutes with cramp. Derry needed him when they had the ball and were looking to get the equaliser; and they took the wrong option with a wild kick from distance.

This game gave a new meaning to the phrase ebb and flow and was a most enjoyable spectacle. Yet the standard was poor at times and the defending awful. A team like Derry, who scored 2-17, must wonder how they lost but it has been a recurring theme since they were annihilated by Tyrone in the first round of the Ulster championship, they leak scores. A foundation built on sand.

Tipperary now step up to a completely different level but it is a young team who have suffered setbacks before and during the championship and responded with honest effort. Scoring 1-21 and only winning by a point tells where the main problems lie but that is for another day.

Tipperary have taken the hard road without much support from within their own county. No matter what happens in the quarter final they surely see themselves now as having a bright future.

Read more: Sweeney's late double seals historic quarter-final for Tipp

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