Wednesday 21 March 2018

Clare's case looks more convincing in a war of the unpredictables

Clare manager Colm Collins has seen his team make strong progress. Photo: Sportsfile
Clare manager Colm Collins has seen his team make strong progress. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Galway don't do All-Ireland quarter-finals very well, having won only four of their last 15.

Even then, one of the victories (2001) was against Derry, scarcely a great hurling power. Their other three came against Tipperary in 2000 and 2005 and against Cork last year.

That may be completely irrelevant to tomorrow's clash with Clare but nonetheless it's curious that so many Galway squads and managers have found the third-last fence too high to negotiate.

Together with the failure to win the Leinster title more than once since joining the eastern campaign in 2009, it has left Galway outside the top four in 11 of the last 14 seasons.

Those are the stark facts, which tend to contradict one of the most overused phrases in hurling: "You never know which Galway team will turn up."

Galway's capacity to deliver really big performances is beyond question but they are not as frequent as the positive side of the 'you never know' line suggests.

There has been none so far this year and since Galway's record in years after losing All-Ireland finals (1994-2002-2006-2013) is poor, their supporters have good reason to be concerned about tomorrow's encounter.

Losing to Kilkenny three weeks ago wasn't unexpected, even if the squad took heavy criticism afterwards. Galway are not the only county who find Kilkenny so difficult to deal with - indeed the Tribesmen have a better record than most against Cody's men.

More significant is the fact that Galway did nothing in the Allianz League to suggest there was anything new or dynamic about them in a season where they carry self-imposed pressure after forcing a change of management last year.

You would have expected a frenzied approach to apply in every game but instead Galway were tame enough to drop into the 1A drop zone and then lose the relegation play-off to Cork.

It's possible that all changes tomorrow, replaced by a compelling performance that sweeps them into the semi-final but the evidence to support that theory is in short supply.

Yes, there were periods in the first half of the Leinster final when they hurled with impressive momentum but it didn't last, no more than it did in the second half of last year's All-Ireland final.

Yet, a few weeks earlier, Galway had refused to be undermined after conceding three goals against Tipperary. Why the contrast?

And why has it prevailed for so long under several different managers?

Clare haven't been exactly a model of consistency either. Their 2013 All-Ireland win seems a long way off and, prior to this year's league win, they had done nothing to hint at a return to the peaks of three years ago.

The league success was impressive, featuring wins over Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford on the run-in before the Déise returned to deliver a dose of reality in the Munster semi-final.


All of which makes tomorrow's game so utterly unpredictable. Clare didn't have to do a whole lot to negotiate their way through the qualifiers against Laois, who were out of their depth, and Limerick, who have gone back over the last year.

In fact, given the quality of opposition, Galway's effort in defeat against Kilkenny may actually have been better than Clare's performance in victory against Limerick.

Swap Galway and Clare in this year's Leinster/Munster/qualifier campaigns and it's highly likely they would still be meeting in the quarter-final, having come from different sides.

So who will take their challenge to the next level? Clare have the stronger case. They have shown a lot of good form this year, losing only once in all competitions, whereas Galway are relying on the positive side of "you never know which team will turn up."

It's scarcely a solid platform for a big launch.

Irish Independent

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