Big guns to come out fighting
Cats and Galway have had a stormy summer but glory is still within their grasp
BY 5.30 tomorrow evening, I expect Kilkenny v Dublin and Galway v Limerick to be the All-Ireland hurling semi-final pairings.
I doubt that's what Dublin want, as they would be far happier facing Cork or Clare in the semi-final rather than taking on Kilkenny again, but I suspect a return match is coming their way next month.
CLARE V GALWAY:
D-DAY FOR TRIBESMEN
From however many angles Galway studied the Leinster final, there can be no escaping the truth – it was a dreadful performance.
Yes, Dublin played very well, but they were allowed to shape the game to their liking in a manner which even Anthony Daly would never have anticipated.
That was Galway's biggest sin. They were the reigning Leinster champions and All-Ireland runners-up, yet they allowed Daly's lads to establish a rhythm which not only won the game, but left Galway so far behind as to be barely visible in Dublin's rear-view mirror.
The basic design of a team and a game plan, plus the necessary adjustments during the action, is down to the management, but the performance is down to the players.
The perfect game plan will fail if the players don't perform, while a bad game plan will often suffice if the players prosper as individuals. After all, the game plan has nothing to do with 50-50 situations, who reacts quickest to breaking ball, plus all the other basics which are so important.
I have no doubt that in their discussions since the Leinster final, the Galway management and players shared the responsibility for the mess. That's as it should be, but it will only yield a harvest if both sides – and all the individuals involved – felt the same way when they were on their own.
It's easy for a small (management) or large (squad) group to be frank and self-critical at a team meeting, but it only counts if, as individuals, they feel the same way on their way home.
Galway's prospects of beating Clare tomorrow depend very much on how everyone in the camp viewed himself after the Dublin defeat.
If he thought he did okay and others were to blame, then Galway are doomed; if he didn't and is driven by an obsession to get it right tomorrow, they will win.
Clare have made solid progress under Davy Fitzgerald and are now playing very much to a plan which, when it works, is hard to counteract, but which can break down from time to time.
They remain a work-in-progress and have a clear vision for the next few years, whereas Galway have to win tomorrow to avoid squandering the profits of last year's advance.
I would expect Clare to detail as many bodies as possible to remain in the vicinity of Joe Canning, in which case, there has to be space elsewhere for other Galway forwards. They need to exploit it and not keep relying on Canning for everything.
Galway to win and get their All-Ireland ambitions back on track.
CORK V KILKENNY:
Would Cork be looking in on tomorrow's action as Munster champions if Patrick Horgan had not been sent off in the Munster final? I don't think so.
Yes, his absence was a big loss in the second half, but the real damage was done when Cork wasted so many chances in the first half.
They should have been six or seven points ahead at half-time, but instead they were level, leaving Limerick much better primed psychologically for the second half. Horgan's departure made their job easier, but they would probably have won anyway.
Cork will bring plenty of movement and energy to tomorrow's clash, but I doubt their attack will be physically strong enough to grind down the Kilkenny defence.
Kilkenny are not the relentless powerhouse of a few years ago, but then the level of opposition has risen. Tipperary were the only ones capable of really stretching Kilkenny for a few seasons; now there are several counties who fancy their chances.
For all that, Kilkenny are still in line for another All-Ireland treble. The manner in which they responded every time Waterford came back at them two weeks ago was typical of the unyielding defiance Cody's teams have brought to their game for well over a decade.
When Waterford shot a string of points to draw level at the end of normal time, the advantage seemed to be with them heading into extra-time, yet it was Kilkenny who shot from the blocks.
And when Waterford got their second goal late on, Kilkenny's response was quick and effective.
Their self-belief appears to be limitless, which is another advantage they will hold over Cork tomorrow.
Generally, the Cork psyche isn't exactly shy and self-effacing, but the current squad hasn't achieved enough to provide a really hard layer of confidence. They may have to wait another year to build further on what is a solid platform.
The quarter-final pairing handed them the draw from hell – they are unlikely to survive it.