Thursday, May 10, 2007

Begob Boys! Tis the TSA Championship Preview Part 1

The smell of freshly cut grass wafts up your nostrils, you rub lotion into your fried, scarlet skin and contemplate the merits of another Mint Cornetto. In the distance, a radio. A voice as familiar and welcome as the sound of a warm breeze ruffling the trees, riding to a crescendo on the wave of a crowd's roar. Micheál ó Muicheartaigh (for it is he) sing-songs an epic story from one of Ireland's green fields. You take a lick of the Cornetto and smile.

Summer, and the Championship.

So throw away your yellowing, drab old media previews and join TSA as we don straw hat and county-colour armband fashioned from wool, and look forward to the Greatest Show in Ireland.


Munster Mash
Unlike its hurling equivalent, which is as competitive as five caged rats fighting over a rasher, the Munster Football Championship is a rather languid affair. Kerry won all those All-Irelands back in the day by winning two or three serious games (compare that with Tyrone's 9 game campaign in 2005), having emerged from a provincial championship as taxing as a spa weekend in Aghadoe Heights.

That's no longer quite so much the case, with Limerick achieving some respectability in recent years (and coming very close to upsetting the Kingdom in the 2004 final), helping out Cork in Kerry-baiting matters. But while the Treaty county's tide has gone out somewhat, Cork are, brick by brick, rebuilding a footballing edifice that has long been a shadow of its former glory.

They won Munster last year off a Kerry side in the midst of soul-searching from which they would re-emerge in Kieran Donaghy-inspired, champion fettle. The real reflection of the province's order came in the All-Ireland semi-final, in which Kerry disposed of Cork by six points.

Paidí o Sé will drag a performance or two out of Clare, while Waterford and Tipperary will politely fail to distract our attentions. So it is to the Kingdom we come again.

What of this Kerry lot, then? Are they the side to break the 17-year-old stretch since an All-Ireland champion last retained their title? New management and the retirements of Seamus Moynihan and Mike McCarthy are all that can be mustered as evidence for the prosecution.

It would not requre Perry Mason to conduct their defence: no-one has yet figured out how to shackle the (albeit injury-prone and indisciplined) force that is Donaghy; they cruised to a top four league spot without largely Donaghy, the 'Gooch' Cooper and Eoin Brosnan; Darragh ó Sé came onto some monstrous form as the league went on.

Finally, you just know they're going to be there or thereabouts, and in the absence of sure-fire alternatives at this stage, they will be hard beat in September.
Western People
Johnno, as he must be called at all times, is a busy man right now. The Mayo manager is running for election for Fine Gael (on the same ticket as the Inda - how can one constituency hold so much charisma?), with the May 24th vote coming just four days after his team's tussle with Galway in the first round of the Connacht Championship.

As if winning The Game That No-one Wanted To Win (a.k.a the National League semi-final between the two western giants, which came just four weeks before their Championship meeting) was not enough of a bad omen for Mayo supporters, seeing their manager out kissing babies when he should be doing complicated things with cones and bibs must be really worrying.

Still, given his past record, O'Mahony can verily be said to possess a Midas touch, so we can expect the next six months to include an All-Ireland title for Mayo and Johnno elected Taoiseach with an overall majority. For all their status as godforsaken loss-junkies, Mayo have been consistently in the reckoning over recent years, and O'Mahony's nous for big match preparation could see them returned on the first count.

But there is a decent chance of a swing to Galway a week on Sunday. They had a good league, without beating much really, and calibrated their improvement as the campaign went on. For all that, they seem to be still in those middling sort of doldrums in which they have resided since the glories of their own O'Mahony years. Despite Padraig Joyce being ably abetted in attack by the dangerous Michael Meehan, it's difficult to see them challenging come the autumn.

If John Maughan and Tommy Carr are as good friends as they are supposed to be, you'd think the latter would have advised the former about his prospects when taking over the Roscommon job (Carr's former beat). Perhaps, as outdoorsy military men, they like the fresh western air or something. Either way, any improvement that Maughan can get out of Roscommon's familiar band of journeymen would be admirable, until such time as last year's shock All-Ireland minor champions come through.

But the Rossies should find themselves in the Connacht final, presuming they have the measure of Sligo in the semi. They would then get a tilt at one of the province's big two (one of whom will have sleptwalked past Leitrim), which they will have a good rattle at, before tailing off in a wheezy last ten minutes, or after Séimí o'Neill gets sent off.

Tomorrow: Ulster and Leinster

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Blogger Willie Joe said...

I think Sunday's Galway v Mayo clash is a toss-up alright. Our (i.e. Mayo's) recent chasmpionship matches with them have been close (apart from 2004, when we gave them a four point headstart and beat them by six) and both 2005 and 2006 could, in reality, have gone the other way.

Before we met them in the league semi-final, I think we were pretty confident of winning the championship showdown but that bout of shadow-boxing seems to have spooked us somewhat, even though we won it. It looked like Padraig Joyce was back on form and it showed that the James Kilcullen experiment at full-back for us might not work (it now appears he won't be starting there on Sunday). They certainly had enough chances to win that match at Croker (the wide count was 12-5 in their favour)and it made us realise how good they can be on their day.

If we have our doubts arising from the league clash, then, from what I'm hearing, they're in a total dither over the Johnno factor, as they seem to think he still knows everything about them. Maybe he does, maybe not, but it's still likely to have a bearing on Sunday's match.

I think we will win because (a) I'm in the biased/optimistic camp and (b) we're a better team now than we were in either 2005 or 2006 and I'm not sure if they are. But if we do win, it won't be by much - this is Galway were playing, after all. Up the Green and Red!

11:53 a.m.  
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