Posted by Christy O'Connor
Thursday 28 July 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
Five years ago, before Limerick played Kerry in an All-Ireland quarter-final, Stephen Lavin described the moment at the final whistle of their previous week’s Round 4 qualifier win against Wexford in distilled form. In that moment, all the sacrifices Lavin had made, all the heartbreak he had endured, instantly came to mind. The first person he went to was the injured John Galvin, who Lavin had soldiered with for ten years. Then he looked for his parents, Pat and Nora. When they embraced on the field, his father was shaking, while his mother was in tears. So was Lavin.
“A lot of these big counties can’t understand what it’s like for Limerick,” he says. “We don’t have tradition. Football is the third or fourth sport in Limerick and we’re just coming from the perspective of trying to make the breakthrough. We’ve consistently tried and we’ve all been gutted after defeats. I’ve seen grown men reduced to tears after defeats. But you keep going back because you’re trying to do something that has never been done before. I don’t think many people can say that. To have finally accomplished it the last day, the feeling afterwards washes away any of the defeats in the past. Whatever happens from now on, they can never take that feeling after the Wexford game away from us.”
Throughout the last decade, that Limerick team continued thrashing the age-old expectation that defined their place in the game. Despite all the serial defeat and disappointments, their heroic resistance never relented. Lavin played in five Munster finals (including one replay) and lost every one, three of them in harrowing circumstances.
Reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final was a massive breakthrough but meeting Kerry again, just ten weeks after Kerry had already wiped them out in Munster, was the last draw Limerick needed. They tried to convince themselves that this time would be different but it wasn’t. Kerry won by 13 points.
After he retired last month, former Limerick footballer Pa Ranahan, spoke about the highs and lows of his career. “The 20 minutes after that Wexford game (2011), and the bus home, were special,” said Ranahan. “Yet the one regret from the quarter-finals was that we didn’t get to play someone new, a Dublin or a Mayo. We played Kerry again.”
Five years on, Clare are in a similar predicament to where Limerick were in 2011; the massive high of reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time has been punctured slightly by the reality of Kerry coming down the tracks just eight days later.
=The scenes in Portlaoise, and the emotions experienced by the Limerick players five years ago were broadly similar to those in Salthill last Saturday after Clare defeated Roscommon.
Over half an hour after the final whistle, the Clare players were still mingling with their throngs of supporters on the Pearse Stadium pitch, everyone drinking in the moment and draining the last drop out of another landmark day for Clare football. It rekindled golden memories Clare haven’t experienced for two decades.
To date, Clare have been the standout story of the football season, having already won the Division 3 title and secured Division 2 football for 2017. A maiden All-Ireland quarter-final appearance shows how much Clare have continued to defy convention but they have still been matching all expectations this group have set for themselves. It’s not ideal for Clare to have to face Kerry again now but this Clare side are at a different stage in their development to where that Limerick side were in 2011. Having toiled for so long to reach that point, Limerick were at the end of the line. This Clare team though, is on an upward curve.
Kerry are never easy to crack, especially in Croke Park, and particularly in All-Ireland quarter-finals, where their win rate is 13 from 15. Their average winning margin in those games is 9 points. That average is skewed by a handful of annihilations but Kerry don’t do sentiment and some of their biggest wins came against teams who were vulnerable, or inexperienced, coming into Croke Park.
Eight days after the massive high of beating Cork (who should have beaten Kerry in the drawn Munster final), Kildare walked into a Kerry haymaker last year which left them sprawled on the canvass. Kerry hit them for seven goals. They won by 27 points.
Under Kieran McGeeney, Kildare had played in five successive All-Ireland quarter-finals between 2008-’12. Yet many of those players had moved on and Kildare were nowhere near as strong, or as experienced, as those sides were. And when Kerry smell blood, they go for the kill early, and ruthlessly.
Clare know the challenge ahead of them now. They need to bring the intensity which they didn’t produce in Killarney in June. Clare still hit 0-17 in that game, which was largely overlooked, but they need to produce a performance for the ages now if they are to win here. It’s a huge test but this group have made a habit of defying convention and crossing new thresholds.
Before that All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry five years ago, Stephen Lavin spoke about a quote from Teddy Roosevelt that he often thought about. The lines rolled off his tongue. ‘The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, ….and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’
Lavin said that those words summed up why he played for Limerick. “Kerry could beat us by 20 points on Sunday,” he said. “I know that. All the boys know that. But I can’t think of any way I could have spent the last ten years than trying to accomplish something, with an unbelievable bunch of players, who have never accomplished it before. To me, I’m chasing a dream and I wouldn’t have lived my life any other way for the last ten years. Now that we’ve finally made an All-Ireland quarter-final, we will go out and give it our all. We may fail but if we do, at least we’ll fail while daring greatly.”
Clare will adopt a similar mentality now because they will need to. Like Lavin, a core group of Clare players have spent the guts of a decade trying to reach this level. Most of their careers were spent in Division 4. Yet they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and are now going to Croke Park for the second time this season.
Whatever happens, Clare will always have the golden memories of this season, especially Salthill. They won’t be happy with just that. They will want, and need, to build on this season for the future progress of Clare football. They will go all out to win on Sunday but, whatever happens, it won’t alter the truth that sometimes the splendour of the team has nothing to do with the final score.
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Donegal to win: 83%
Cork to win: 15%
Mayo to win: 97%
Westmeath to win: 2%
Kerry to win: 96%
Clare to win: 1%%
Galway to win: 73%
Tipperary to win: 23%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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