GAA people are crying out for a classic. It has been too long since everybody sat back in awe of two teams producing a high-quality contest. Everyone hoped Cork and Tipp would provide this. It didn’t happen. Now it’s the turn of Clare and Waterford.
Obviously Clare and Waterford are not the only two teams playing this weekend. We get our first glimpse of the Dublin footballers away from Croke Park since 2006. Down and Monaghan will play out another potential intriguing Ulster football clash, while the Leinster Hurling Championship gains momentum with Westmeath facing Galway and Offaly taking on Laois.
The quality of games last season was far too low in both hurling and football across the board. The superb contest between Tipperary and Galway was not enough to cover over the cracks of a truly awful hurling season. Football has been very up and down for a while now and outside of the games between Dublin and Mayo, it was hard to remember any game that will live long in the memory.
The fact that Dublin and Kerry, the two traditionalists of Gaelic football, played out such a negative final is really what the season will be remembered for.
We all hoped, and still hope, for better in 2016 but so far the picture being painted won’t sell for much at any auction. Cork and Tipp was a massive disappointment. It looked to be the perfect fixture to spark the season into life.
Conditions did not help, but the lack of atmosphere and passion throughout the day was a major let down. The talk and examples of the special days out when Cork play Tipp in Thurles are endless, but what unfolded was probably the least eventful Cork-Tipp game of all time.
It also did little to change the endless pleas for change to the Championship structure and something needs to happen fast in order for these pleas to go away.
The way the weather has been in Ireland this week however, the weekend could be set up for that something we have all been waiting for.
Every Irish summer includes GAA. No matter how much people support it or where they come from, Sunday afternoons always involve a match. The quality of games over the last year or so have been disappointing for everyone though, and as much as Ireland loves knocking things, people are not criticising the GAA for the sake of it. They are criticising something we all enjoy watching but which is no longer that enjoyable.
The real standout game this weekend, without doubt, is Clare and Waterford in Thurles. After playing out an awful drawn league quarter-final, early goals from Waterford forced Clare to throw the shackles off and – from there – an exciting tie was on show.
Like only GAA can do, late drama led to massive exaggerations on the overall quality of the game but that drama did give a great occasion and some hope that the 2016 Hurling Championship would be 200% better than the 2015 affair.
This Sunday should provide an opportunity for people to really get excited. The fact that winning Munster is such a big deal to both sides could see things go one of two ways. Either both teams will go gung-ho to win the game in a stylish manner, or both sides will try to win at all costs taking the ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach.
Unfortunately, across all GAA spectrums, managers and coaches have taken the ‘prevention is better than cure’ philosophy in setting up their teams for big games. Those people are not in the entertainment business and GAA has become far less entertaining as a result.
Again, we are hoping this weekend will change all that.
Monaghan and Down will hopefully provide a good contest, like Ulster football usually does. Let’s hope we see the likes of Conor McManus, Kevin Hughes and Kevin McKernan in full swing and attacking with the quality they can bring to the table.
The Leinster Hurling Championship also pushes on with two more quarter-finals. Galway make their first championship bow since they ousted Anthony Cunningham as manager. They should account for maroon counterparts Westmeath without too much trouble, but they need to make a statement of intent and show they mean business under new management in doing so.
We criticised Dublin playing Laois footballers in Nowlan Park but the novelty of the location may help to get people more interested. While it is unlikely, if Laois could at least put up a good fight or even pull off an upset, then talks of provincial championships still having a future and Dublin not being so invincible outside Croke Park would help to kick off the rest of the summer.
Regardless, the main focus will remain on Thurles, and if Clare and Waterford can provide a great game, then the summer can really begin.
GAA is crying out for a cracking game to restore people’s hope and expectations. This weekend has the potential to provide this. Here’s hoping.