Dublin may garner the bulk of column inches and airtime this weekend as they bid to pump the city’s hurling fortunes to a higher watermark than seen in most of our lifetimes by defeating Kilkenny.
While the young footballers representing Cavan in the All Ireland U21 final perhaps carry even greater hopes than those of Dublin’s hurlers, as a county familiar with patronising platitudes about its GAA heritage has an opportunity to add to the small collection of colour photographs that adorn the bars and barbers across the Breffni. There is a real chance that remeniscence about the Polo Grounds final will – for a while – no longer top the agenda when Cavanmen talk Gah.
However, and I acknowledge this may be considered a radical view, the most important inter-county game to be played this weekend and so far this year is the Division 2 hurling final. It is the only league final where something more than a chance to publicly thank the backroom team is available to the winner. But really, the value isn’t in the winning of this game. There won’t be bonfires lit nor odes penned to celebrate the capture of the Division 2 title, but defeat, and another season in the wastelands of inter-county hurling for the vanquished will rise keening, harsh words and bleak introspection.
Knocking the stuffing out of developing counties is no way to prepare for the championship. Wexford stepped out of the Division 2 quagmire as champions last year and took an 11-point beating through the front door followed by a 14-point spanking at the backdoor in their two summer outings. Clare fared little better in their two championship outings, losing by a combined total of 17 points. So you may forget about these two counties impacting this summer, they just won’t be at concert pitch no matter how often they knock out a tune in challenge matches.
Short-termism is out the window when you are looking to restore the wellbeing of a fallen giant. Step one is getting back to mixing it with the big boys in Division 1. Step two is staying there – bualadh bos for Wexford.
So who to put the money on?
Clare got a massive break when they landed home advantage. It considerably increases their chances of promotion. However, I can’t look past the fact that Clare are in Division 2 on merit while Limerick are there through circumstance. Limerick’s senior hurlers largely didn’t hurl in 2010. In 2011 they did. And they won every game in Division 2, including an eight-point victory in Clare. The Bannermen on the other hand would appear to have regressed. A mortifying defeat to an improving Laois team left Clare with some unexpected business to deal with just to secure a spot in the final.
Limerick are a Division 1 team waiting to happen. Clare are a Division 2 team waiting to improve. It will take a performance of the calibre we have not yet seen in Ger O’Loughlin’s reign to puck Clare clear of the sidelines and back to the mainstream this weekend. I’m looking to lay the Banner at 5/4.