KILLINAN END - Hard to correlate between club and county success
It is one of immutable laws of the championship that the greater the height at which you succeed the bigger the fall when it comes.
Loughmore/Castleiney found themselves on the wrong side of another cliff-hanger against Clonmel Commercials and could hardly have done more to land another double. It is always tempting to say that it is a long way back to the dizzy heights of County finals and the consistent competitiveness required to reach that level, but few would doubt Loughmore’s capacity to rise again.
For those with an eye of the making of history the fall of Corofin in the Galway semi-finals is significant. The All-Ireland champions of the past three years were well beaten in the end by Mountbellow-Moylough. No less than Loughmore few would incline to read too much into one defeat and assume Corofin to be at the end of the road. Nevertheless, there is something of the end of an era about Sunday’s defeat. In this most competitive of County football championships Corofin managed to win seven consecutive championships. Not since the halcyon days of Seán Purcell and Frank Stockwell, Galway’s famous ‘Terrible Twins’ had such dominance been seen. In their time Tuam Stars won seven titles uninterrupted between 1954 and 1960. Corofin threatened to one better but fell at the penultimate hurdle.
This has been coming. For all the strength of Corofin outside Galway they have been severely tested inside their own county on occasion. Their conquerors in this year’s semi-final have lost three of the last five finals to them, the last of them two years ago in a replay. Their current prominence has not come from thin air. Corofin were also troubled by Tuam Stars in last year’s final, needing a late equaliser and replay to squeeze through. Tuam Stars, maybe heirs apparent after their performance twelve months ago, also bowed out in the semi-final this year, losing to Moycullen. The trickiness other clubs have found even getting back to the showpiece game emphasises the extent of Corofin’s achievements. And who knows maybe they are not done yet?
When club teams such as Corofin are going really well there is always the tendency for people to overreach reality and claim that “they’d beat a lot of county teams”. This is a claim which teeters between irrelevance – who cares if Bayern Munich would beat the Faroe Islands? – and simply not being credible. Consider the example of Mullinaghta of Longford who beat Kilmacud Crokes a few years ago in the Leinster final. No doubt you would have some that would claim confidently that the winners of the Dublin championship would beat many counties. The evidence suggests otherwise. It is likely that even the best club football teams would struggle to beat any properly prepared county team.
Hurling, of course, is a different matter where the standard falls off a cliff after about the nine top counties. But even the especially strong hurling clubs can be exaggerated. Take Na Piarsaigh in Limerick – in October 2018 they won a fifth County title in eight years. Two months earlier when Limerick won the All-Ireland, Na Piarsaigh had but one player on the starting 15. This is not to suggest that this would still be the case, or that Na Piarsaigh is not a powerful team, but that the connection between club and county is unclear and can send out confusing signals. We all remember the phenomenon in recent decades of five Mullinahone players in the Tipp squad when Toomevara usually had just the one. Yet their records in the Dan Breen race bore no relation to this.
It has been suggested over the weekend that maybe as many as seven Ballyhale Shamrocks’ players could be starters for Kilkenny in the championship. This might not be a great sign of the Black and Amber if it transpires. It seems statistically unlikely that seven of the best 15 in that county come from the same parish. Corofin, while attracting great reviews from commentators often intoxicated by the glint of silverware, never threatened to raise the Galway boat to any extraordinary heights.
Of course, it might be argued that sometimes the success of a club can impact negatively on a county by leaving key players worn out. Maybe less thought is given to how the impact might work in the opposite direction. This is where Dublin’s champions, Ballymun Kickhams, is interesting. In recent years they have had Dean Rock, James McCarthy, Philly McMahon, John Small and his brother Paddy, as well as Stephen Cluxton’s understudy Evan Comerford, Dublin squad-members all and well over 30 All-Ireland medals between them. A team of remarkable potential indeed when viewed through the inter-county prism.
Yet until last weekend the club had played in just one of the last six finals and hadn’t won the championship since 2012. The word on the street was that the lockdown during which inter-county teams weren’t training collectively had been good to Ballymun. Teamwork and combinations were being developed like never before with the inter-county players involved all the time. The evidence of just one County Final might not satisfy all arguments but it is a suspicious coincidence.