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Thursday 29 September 2016

Don't mock the Munster minnows ...

Liam Kearns' Tipperary side have impressed. Picture Credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Liam Kearns' Tipperary side have impressed. Picture Credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

So, it's official - Munster is now the undisputed footballing stronghold in this year's marathon sprint towards Sam Maguire.

A province long mocked for its dearth of a competitive pulse is already guaranteed three All-Ireland quarter-finalists after that stunning weekend double-whammy from Clare and Tipperary ... and who's to say that won't climb to four, or 50pc of the last-eight, when Cork tackle a wounded Donegal?

Well, sorry to rain on Munster's parade, but perhaps we should hold fire on the plaudits until we see how the Rebels fare on Saturday, and then how Clare and Tipp perform against Kerry and Galway respectively in their quarter-finals on Sunday.

What we can say, beyond dispute, is that this has been a spectacularly upbeat season for both the Banner and the Premier - come what may this weekend.

Moreover, their progress goes to show what can be achieved by county teams that are (a) well managed and (b) play with positive intent instead of the 13-men-back mindset that is even harder to watch when embraced by minnow counties of relatively limited playing resources.

Fairytale

And we're not just talking about their 'back door' fairytale runs, the type that occasionally enliven our outdated qualifiers. Clare were crowned Division 3 champions in the spring; Tipp sent Cork crashing out of Munster in June.

But they weren't happy to settle at that. Who would have predicted, back in April when the Clare hurlers were ripping Kilkenny's defence asunder, that Podge Collins would be playing longer into the summer with his father Colm's county footballers? And who, hand on heart, would have wagered money on Tipp reaching the last-eight after they finished sixth in Division 3 and as Liam Kearns saw his options depleted by the competing lure of the county hurlers and a summer in the States?

Antidote

Effectively they had to defeat Derry twice on Saturday evening, and the thrilling manner of the victory was a refreshing antidote to some of the defensive dross we have witnessed in recent weeks.

As for Clare, their final margin against Roscommon didn't remotely do justice to what was a six-point hammering.

Now, though, for a reality check. Both Tipp and Clare have been facilitated by their presence on the easier half of the qualifier draw. Would they have made it through the tougher terrain of the 'B' side? That's open to question.

Moreover, Tipp's attacking effervescence cannot mask an obvious Achilles' heel: in their last three matches the defence has leaked 2-16 against Cork, 3-17 against Kerry and 2-17 against Derry.

We still give them a strong outside chance against Galway, whereas Clare's score-to-chance ratio must improve drastically if they're to shock a Kerry team that had 12 points to spare on them last month.

For what it's worth, with ten teams left in the race for Sam, here's how we rate their All-Ireland credentials based on pedigree, current form, and also the difficulty/ease of their route to September ...

How they rank:

1. Dublin, 2. Tyrone, 3. Kerry, 4. Mayo, 5. Galway, 6. Donegal, 7. Tipperary, 8. Cork, 9. Clare, 10. Westmeath

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