July 31, 2016
The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship has reached the quarter-final stages with the first of two double-headers set to go down in Croke Park.
The majority of the teams involved in the last eight are as expected apart from two glaring exceptions, Clare and Tipperary. Three of the eight quarter-finalists are indeed Munster counties and it could well have been four if Cork hadn’t narrowly lost to Donegal just one day previously.
Clare ultimately fell short in their curtain-raiser with Kerry, while Tipperary shocked the nation in toppling a fancied Galway outfit to set-up a final four meeting with Mayo. It was a great day for Munster football in what had been a fantastic year for the minnow counties.
Earlier that season, Clare had unexpectedly defeated Kildare in the Division 3 league final in a result that reverberated around the country. Tipperary then backed this up in 2017 with a league title of their own.
Two staunch hurling counties, making waves in the footballing world, who’d have thunk it?
March 24, 2019
Fast forward nearly three years and the two counties, alongside Cork battle it out on the final day of the Allianz Football League with only one team guaranteed survival.
As it transpired, Cork and Tipperary face life in the third tier next season and for the Rebel County, it marks a dramatic fall having contested a Division 1 final just four years ago.
For Tipperary, the drop to Division 3 comes 12 months after narrowly missing out on promotion to the top tier and while Clare survived the drop, they rode their luck along the way.
In Division 4, Waterford managed a fourth-place finish, while Limerick ended their campaign second from bottom with neither team hinting at promotion.
In the meantime, Kerry have blazed a trail through Division 1 and could quite possibly clinch a second league title in three years this weekend.
On top of that, the Kingdom are also gunning for seven Munster titles in a row and it’s difficult to see how any of the five teams can stop them.
This begs the question, was the rise of Munster football just a false dawn?
In years gone by the annual meeting of Cork and Kerry has kept us interested in the Munster Championship but even that great rivalry was soured in the last number of years.
What was once one of the defining days of a championship season has now become a foregone conclusion with the last competitive game between the pair coming in 2015 when Cork drew with the Kingdom in a game that they ought to have won.
Kerry went on to win the replay by five points and since then the gap has gotten wider with each passing year.
The 2017 Munster final saw Kerry dominate from start to finish en route to an 11-point victory and the gap increased further in 2018 when despite yielding two early goals, Cork fell to a 17-point hammering.
With the Rebel County tumbling even further down the pecking order in 2019 it’s difficult to see a spark reigniting this rivalry, much like the great Dublin/Meath rivalry that is now non-existent.
If the Cork and Kerry rivalry is no more, could Clare be the team to step up and challenge the Kingdom?
While only narrowly escaping relegation last weekend, there can be no denying the excellent job Colm Collins has done in his four and a bit seasons with the Banner County. When he took over they were languishing in Division 4 of the league but back-to-back promotions (including a Division 3 title) has seen them make huge strides.
However, are they really a threat to Kerry?
The two sides have met in the last three Munster Championships. In 2016 Kerry romped home to a 12-point victory and while Clare managed to halve that gap in 2017, Kerry doubled it once more in 2018. The two will meet again this season and to be honest, only one outcome looks possible.
What is unfortunate for Clare is they are shit out of luck in terms of consistently falling on the same side of the draw as Kerry because, given their achievements, the least they deserve is a Munster final appearance.
As for Tipperary, since the Premier County’s rise through the divisions began in 2014 they have managed to meet Kerry twice in championship football with neither game going well for them.
In 2015 they fell by six-points in a Munster semi-final that never really looked in doubt.
The following year, Tipperary managed to get one over on Cork and reach the Munster final, however, Kerry eased to a 10-point win on the day.
Given Cork’s horrendous 2019 form, it would come as little surprise to see Tipperary topple them once more this season, however, with Kerry waiting in the final, it’s difficult to see how they can overcome that challenge.
We all know that Munster has been a two horse race between Cork and Kerry since basically the dawn of time, with the remaining four counties historically favouring hurling.
However, the apparent rise of Tipperary and Clare had given us hope that they could break the mould, smash through the doors and blow the Munster Championship wide open, however, it seems as though this was all a false dawn.
While Cork have slipped even further and opened that door for Clare or Tipperary to jump in as Munster football’s second team, the fact that Kerry are only getting stronger means they will continue to dominate.
Peter Keane’s men will win seven in a row this year, next year they will do eight, then nine, then ten, then all of a sudden nobody is interested anymore.