Ranked high among the great modern GAA oddities, at least until recently, the Munster hurling champion had a grim record in the All-Ireland series.
The arrival of limerick as the leading modern force of hurling has tilted the scale back a bit. Their brand of dominance seems to defy trends.
But consider the pre-Limerick statistics.
In the 12 seasons between 2007 and 2018, the Munster hurling champions reached the All-Ireland final on only three occasions, despite only needing one subsequent victory to do so.
Each time it was the tip that broke the chain; in 2009, 2011 and 2016. The other nine teams lost their next game. King Champs in June until August.
The flattest, arguably, of the demonstrations within that canon of mourning was Limerick in 2013. They scorched Earth at the Gaelic Grounds, beating Cork by nine points. Yet their loss to Claire – seven – was delivered five weeks later at Croke Park by a team barely identifiable from their Munster final self.
“I wouldn’t use this (a five-week gap since the Munster final) as an excuse, but it certainly isn’t ideal,” his manager, John Allen, noted at the time.
“How do you keep players in that form? Whatever confidence he had of coming out of the Munster finals is gone. It’s not an excuse, but it’s not the norm. It’s too long.”
Alan was not alone.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy did a similar thing in 2014, when a cropper came up against Tip in the Cork All-Ireland semi-final, as did Eamon O’Shea in 2015. All were quick and eager to emphasize that the hiatus was not an excuse for their team’s inability to convert a good season into a great season.
Even then …
In football, a four-week break – although not so severe – has sometimes caused impotence in past provincial winners. This year makes for an interesting test case. The in-built summer schedule is a scenario that has not happened before and will not happen again, or at least not in the life cycle of the upcoming championship format: all four provincial finals were played on the same weekend with all-Ireland Quarterfinals scheduled for this weekend after four weeks.
Therefore, Dublin, Kerry, Galway and Derry have been subjected to the same disruption Jim Gavin called the “battle rhythm” of recovery from one game and preparation for another. Jack O’Connor recently said, “It’s in front of us and it’s up to us as a group to manage it as best we can.” “But I agree that traveling the direct route can be a big loss and if it does come we will manage it as best we can.”
On Monday, speaking at a pre-match press briefing, O’Connor drew comparisons between Mayo and his Kerry team from 2009, when they faltered from an unconvinced victory over Longford, Sligo and Antrim to a second win, of course. had to be taken out. His grief by the Leinster champions, Dublin, in rest. Carey won 1-7 from 1-24.
In all of this, Carey’s case study makes for an interesting read. On only three occasions since the establishment of the qualifiers in 2001 have they failed to make it to the All-Ireland semi-finals – Bar 2020, when there was no back door.
Two of those failures came after competitive intermissions that were of four weeks duration. In 2010, a month after they defeated Limerick in the Munster final, they lost to Down. In 2018, amonn Fitzmaurice’s side went four weeks without a game before Galway defeated them in the opening round of Super 8, a defeat that began their unraveling.
“That two-week cycle, you get into a rhythm, you get comfortable, you get used to that dynamic and now there’s a break,” reflected Daisy Farrell after Dublin’s Leinster final win over Kildare did.
Given that Dublin won its 12th consecutive Leinster title, it is unlikely that Farrell – or O’Connor for that matter – would have been surprised by the schedule.
In fact, the two did exactly the same thing: that in a season where everything is being crushed into a tight window, where the All-Ireland series is run over four weeks, such a distinction seems unnecessary.
But there’s no proven way to conserve energy from a performance in a month without a game. The general consensus is that the ideal break between major championship games is three weeks – roughly: one to recover, one to prepare and another to focus.
Anything longer and, as John Allen pointed out in 2013, form dissipates, momentum is lost. Energy becomes sluggish and has to be regenerated. Which is not to waive off the benefits of one month’s exemption.
Derry manager Rory Gallagher noted last week that four weeks had given Niall Loughlin time to recover from his back muscles against Monaghan that flared up again in the Ulster final.
Chances are O’Connor will soon take another month of idling to field a sub-optimal David Clifford against Mayo. History tells us that a month can drag on. Those players lose form and focus often.
That’s going to be a factor this weekend, when momentum meets freshness, where even an initial lull can be fatal, when no one will blame a four-week layoff for losing.
Even then …