It's a joke blockbuster battles don't have top billing

admin admin | 06-21 16:15

Would the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals be rescheduled if they clashed with the Joe McDonagh Cup semi-finals (if such games existed)? Not a hope.

We're seeing the equivalent of that happening this weekend. Football people may say, 'the hurling snobs are at it again, thinking it's the only sport'. We don’t. We know hurling is not as popular as football on the island as a whole but how would the football world feel if it was the other way around?

Football people may also say that their game is much more competitive with more teams having a chance to win the ultimate prize, but since the turn of the century, seven counties have won Sam Maguire, while six have lifted the Liam MacCarthy.

Soccer people may say, 'will ya stop, soccer is the most popular sport in this country by a mile'. I can honestly say if soccer was the most popular sport in this country by that much, and all the best athletes we have on this island played it, we’d all be at the Euros in Germany right now shouting on the Irish team.

There will be some people that might venture out Friday night, indulge in a few beverages and by the time they wake up Saturday either Cork or Dublin will be out of the championship. Granted this could happen at any time, but you get what I’m trying to say here.

A funny story in relation to this and how good friends who are just not that into the GAA may not know what you’re at for the weekend.

We were on the way into the Gaelic Grounds to play Clare in a Munster final. The atmosphere was unreal, crowds along the Ennis Road, a packed house, a great spectacle. Next thing my phone rings. My good buddy Matt Fahy rang me and asked what was I up to for the day and had I any interest in a game of pitch and putt in Murroe.

I just said, 'not today lad, chat to ya tomorrow!'. You know what? It actually help me to relax before the game knowing that while we thought this was the whole world there was still people playing pitch and putt in Murroe, 15 minutes out the road, who had no idea or couldn’t care less what we were doing.

"It should be getting top billing this weekend bar nothing and I feel it's a joke that it’s not."

But back to my point here before we delve into the actual games. This is the first-tier competition in hurling and it’s at the knockout stage involving four of the top six teams in the country this year.

It should be getting top billing this weekend bar nothing and I feel it’s a joke that it’s not.

Wexford are hosting the nation's stars of tomorrow in the Féile na nGael competition this weekend and having the Model County's match against Clare on at the same time, not allowing many of their supporters to attend the game in Thurles, is really unfortunate.

I know this argument has been well made but I just don’t see the common sense approach being applied to these fixtures at the weekend. Hopefully it will be a lesson learned for the future.

Now to the action.

Cork v Dublin

I genuinely thought the Dubs would give that Leinster final a rattle with the form they showed against Galway and in the earlier round against Kilkenny at Parnell Park but I got that as wrong as they did tactically all over the field.

If they stand off Cork and give them the same space they did to Kilkenny, the result will be similar and their year will have turned from progression to disaster in the space of two games.

Dublin need to bring the ferocity we saw against Galway, get in the faces of the Cork players, asking them questions early doors because we witnessed in the Offaly-Cork game that the Rebels still a little bit of dirty diesel in the tank from the Munster championship.

I think the way the Offaly game went is ideal preparation for Cork this weekend. Firstly no matter what they did it would have made little difference.

They were expected to win it and win handy and up to the last couple of plays they were up by double digits. So they got the job done, and Pat Ryan still had a very big stick to beat them with afterwards to say, 'yeah it's job done lads but that is not near the level we need or know we can get to'.

Alan Connolly hardly felt the weight of the ball in his hand during the match after scoring a hat-trick a couple of weeks previously against Tipp. He has never scored a championship goal outside of the Munster championship, he’s only 22 do but he has high standards. So now here’s a guy who will want to get back to that level again this weekend and secondly who the manager can say, 'I trust in you, I know you’re much better than that, now go show me this week'.

The match-ups will be key and whoever wins these three battles will be pivotal in deciding who’s going to Croke Park and who’s going home.

Dublin's Eoghan O'Donnell

Eoghan O’Donnell v Alan Connolly
Two top-class players, both in serious form this year. Connolly has proved when he gets the ball he makes things happen and O’Donnell has gone toe to toe with some of the greats of the game in his career. I feel if the quality of the ball going into the Blackrock man is any way decent that he will have a major impact on this game.

Robert Downey v Donal Burke
Downey has been brilliant since stepping into the six position against Limerick, so good that he’s forcing Ciarán Joyce out to misfield to try and get on this team for now. Burke will ask him questions early doors as to will he sit and protect that D or will he follow Burke. If Cork learned anything from the Leinster final it’s to man mark Burke. They may look to Sean O’Donoghue to do a job for them on Saturday. Should Burke be shut down once again it’s hard to see where the scores or creativity will come from.

Patrick Horgan v Paddy Smyth
The battle of the Paddys, two great leaders for their teams. Paddy Smyth did a terrific job marking Conor Whelan earlier in the year but was pulled and dragged everywhere in the Leinster final and for a finish didn’t know what to do. Hoggie won’t venture to far out the field and with Cork playing three inside it is asking some great questions of defences with the space left in front of them. Like O’Donnell on Connolly, if that ball is coming in fast and in the forwards favour it will be hard to see Hoggie not firing over double digits and making ground on TJ once again for the all-time scorer mantle. Maybe Dublin will just need to play an out-and-out sweeper like Conor Burke to try and curb this threat.

Who’s going to do it? It’s the Rebels for me. I think that lifeline they have been given in getting out of Munster has injected a hope and belief in this group that they can do it and they can mix it with anyone on the day, the Offaly performance was a blip, Saturday will be better, much better and I’d imagine the people of Limerick wouldn’t be too excited about the thoughts of playing the Rebels again in a few weeks.

Clare v Wexford

The Banner roar. Well they better now or, as I said before, this could be the end of an era for a cohort of these Clare hurling greats.

So many were well below the standard required to get near Limerick and only a few could hold their heads high walking out Thurles that day.

They know there is way more in them but it simply has to come out now. They must start performing when the need is most because over the past few years they have failed to do this.

Yes they have won some big group games but when there has been a cup on the line or knockout hurling they have not fulfilled their potential.

Not much motivation should be needed from Brian Lohan and Co for this one; this has to be player driven.

They have to want this now more than they have ever wanted to win for Clare before and prove to the themselves that they are a top team and get back to Croke Park.

Player wise they have a serious deck to pick from. Shane O’Donnell is in player of the year form, David Fitzgerald has scored more than play than most inside forwards this year, Peter Dugaan was brilliant in the Munster final, Mark Rodgers has the potential to be a game winner on his own as does Aidan McCarthy.

And oh yes, Tony Kelly. Serious names, serious players. They just need to click as a group now.

The Wexicans are coming into this after a great performance against Kilkenny and they were unlucky to miss out on a spot in the Leinster final.

They got the job done against Laois in probably a more convincing fashion than Cork did on the other side. Momentum is good, the buzz around the camp has to be good and Keith Rossiter seems to have a really strong squad to pick from now.

I’m sure the internal games have been lifting the past couple of weeks as competition for places has shot up. Conor McDonald is back doing Conor Mac things with five from play the last day against Laois.

Lee Chin will be key for Wexford as always

Rory O’Connor in great form, Lee Chin is leading things as he always does and Cian Byrne is popping up saying, 'I’m here now too lads, I have arrived and I am enjoying this'. I give Wexford a great chance, I really do. The pressure will be on Clare but Wexford seem to play best when nobody is backing them.

So can they do it?

I just think hurt as a motivator is one of the greatest things to have when trying to drive yourself to get to a performance and I feel Clare have so much hurt now from the Munster final. They didn’t die with their boots on as the saying goes and I just think they are coming now with all guns blazing to perform against Wexford.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing Saturday I hope you get to enjoy the games and that we are treated to something special, that when it comes around again they’ll be on at the right time on the right day and we really promote this game that so many are saying they are trying to do.

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