Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Refusal to Mourne - Why Is Everyone So Down on Down?

An Spailpín Fánach is mystified at Down’s being written off prior to their All-Ireland semi-final this Sunday against Kildare. The great Kevin Egan, the GAA bettor’s greatest friend, advises a hearty punt on Kildare not just to win but to cover the -1 margin, bullishly adding that this is “the strongest recommendation this column has made for some time.”

Darragh Ó Sé couldn’t see Down winning no-how, no-way in yesterday’s Irish Times: “I’ve looked at it over and over and can’t see how Down can win. I see Kildare having a more comfortable win than Cork’s.”

Put aside, for the moment, the notion that Cork had an easy win last Sunday, and consider the rest of the statement. Darragh’s looked at it over and over and he still can’t see Down winning. At all. It’s tough but not impossible to see Tipp breaking Kilkenny’s hearts in the hurling without having to look at it over and over – how can Kildare have a better chance against Down than Kilkenny against Tipp? It doesn’t add up.

Of the three teams left in the competition, Down are a cracking, cracking price at 9/2 across the board to win their sixth title and pass Cavan as Ulster’s most successful team. Cork are already in the final but they are a team that is only just hanging together while Kildare’s signature win was against a team that was too chicken to play Louth. Louth!

Down, by contrast, are only the bunch of bums and layabouts that handed out a considerable scutching to the All-Ireland Champions. There is speculation that Kerry were on their last legs, and Down beat them just by virtue of their being the team that turned up on the day.

If Kerry were playing Kildare tomorrow, would Kerry be an 11/8 underdog? The science of handicapping has more twists than simple substitutions, of course, but the broad stroke remains true – Down are not being given credit for beating Kerry. As they’re the only team to beat Kerry in a quarter-final since the introduction of the damnable Qualifiers ten years ago, they should be given more credit for that achievement than they are.

Ambrose Rodgers is a huge lose for Down of course, but does a missing Dermot Earley not balance things out?

People are talking about Kildare’s scoring threat. Down scored some pretty nice points against Kerry, and machine-gunned poor Sligo off the pitch. They’ll be able to keep up with the scores. Down’s defence is a risk but, as they demonstrated against Kerry, denying ball to the opposition can take the bad look off any defence. Kildare start slowly while Down strike quickly and ruthlessly. How much of a lead can Kildare spot Down without going past their elastic limit? All these are serious points of consideration.

And finally, there is the question of tradition. Tradition counts. The history of Down in the 90s and the 60s was to come from nowhere and scorch all before them. Down have had some bad years but talent has been bubbling under – their Under-21s gave Mayo an absolute lesson in Longford a few years ago, Martin Clarke is home from Australia, Benny Coulter has to be singing it’s now or never in the showers – there’s a lot coming together for them.

Whoever wins on Sunday need have no fear of Cork either. Cork were extremely lucky to get past Dublin last Sunday. The worries by the banks of the Lee that Conor Counihan doesn’t know his best fifteen should now be exacerbated by the appearance of him now not being able to tell whether or not a player is even fit to play.

Not only that, but Cork clearly hadn’t the first notion how to counteract Dublin’s infamous method and were lost lambs with fifteen minutes to go until, for reasons best known to himself, Ross O’Connell put Cork right back in the game.

Cork may well win the All-Ireland and if they do, they’ll deserve it of course. All-Irelands aren’t easily won. But nobody is running in fear of Cork the way they were last year until Kerry beat them in the All-Ireland. Cork have never come back from the boxing they took in the All-Ireland last year and, unless they have saved seventy minutes from somewhere, that will leave them vulnerable to whoever wins the semi-final on Sunday. An Spailpín’s dollar sees Sam making his way back to Down. Down, down, deeper and down. Get down, deeper and down. Down, down, deeper and down...