Saturday 24 February 2018

Munster final without 'big two' can't be far away, predicts Walsh

A Cork win would make it four Munster teams in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Picture Credit: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
A Cork win would make it four Munster teams in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Picture Credit: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The former Munster Council chairman who drove the introduction of the open draw to the province's football championship over 25 years ago believes a final without either of the 'big two' is closer than ever on the back of Clare and Tipperary's progress to the All-Ireland quarter-finals for the first time.

Noel Walsh - a selector with John Maughan when Clare won the Munster title in 1992 on the back of that change which allowed for Cork and Kerry to be on the same side of the draw - feels the success of both counties in making the last eight can bring about something that hasn't happened since Tipperary and Limerick met in the 1922 provincial final, even allowing for Kerry's current strength.

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

"I believe the day is coming soon when one of these teams can take out Kerry," he said.

"It could happen next year. Cork and Kerry could be on the same side of the draw now."

Should Cork make it four Munster teams in the All-Ireland quarter-finals Walsh says it would be an incredible achievement for the province, given that three places automatically go the winners of the other provinces.

Cork play Donegal in the first of an All-Ireland fourth-round qualifier double-header in Croke Park on Saturday.

Only Ulster has filled four of the eight quarter-final places since 2001: Tyrone, Donegal, Fermanagh and Monaghan last year; Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Tyrone in 2013; and Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh in 2003.

Walsh believes Clare's progress is down to the effective management of Colm Collins more than any structures that have been put in place in the county.

"Ten years ago Clare should have been appointing this man. I proposed him that long ago," he recalled.

"But there was an obsession with getting outside managers. We went for the late Páidí Ó Se, a tremendous football man but who didn't have the same interest as he had with Westmeath.

"We went for Mick O'Dwyer but again he had probably given his best at that stage.

"People can talk about development and structures but I put it down to the choice of manager. The work Colm has done with his own club Cratloe speaks volumes. He's an unassuming man who gets the job done quietly.

"It was the same with John Maughan 25 years ago, the right man at the right time."

Walsh believes the current team can be considered every bit as good as the 1992 team that shocked Kerry to win the Munster title that year.

"They haven't won a Munster title but their progress in the last few years and especially this year earn them the right to be compared more than favourably to that team," he said.

Clare and Tipperary became the 22nd and 23rd counties to reach All-Ireland quarter-finals over the weekend, a benchmark of progress for the majority of inter-county teams each year.

Kerry still lead the way with an appearance in every one of the All-Ireland quarter-finals since their inception in 2001. This Sunday will mark their 16th All-Ireland quarter-final.

Dublin have only missed out once, when Armagh took them out in a qualifier in 2003.

With a 12th last-eight game looming, courtesy of their Ulster triumph over Donegal, Tyrone are next on list.

Cork could join them if they beat Donegal, who themselves are seeking a 10th appearance on or beyond the August Bank Holiday weekend. Mayo have 10 quarter-finals behind them and are fifth overall.

Galway's Connacht final success brings them an eighth All-Ireland quarter-final, one more than Armagh, while Kildare's five in succession under Kieran McGeeney between 2008 and 2012 was added to last year.

Laois, Monaghan and Meath are all on four, Westmeath, Fermanagh, Roscommon and Derry have three while Down and Sligo have made it that far on two occasions. Limerick, Wexford and Cavan complete the list of quarter-finalists.

Clare are planning to challenge the red card handed down to midfielder Cathal O'Connor which automatically rules him out of the Kerry game.

Meanwhile Tyrone are hoping that Mattie Donnelly will be fit for their All-Ireland quarter-final after he sustained a head injury while playing for his club Trillick in a league match over the weekend.

Irish Independent

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