“CHAMPIONS in any sport are hard to beat.”
That’s the sound bite that Limerick manager TJ Ryan has repeated over and over again.
Ahead of the Tipperary game and again in recent weeks the former Limerick captain has sounded that battle cry.
But as well as rallying the troops it is also a statement of intent on behalf of the manager and his players. When TJ Ryan speaks of “a hell of a battle” and being ready to go at it “hammer and tongs” it’s clear that his Limerick side will leave everything out on the field.
And, that’s what will be needed. Certainly, nothing short of Limerick’s best will return a 20th Munster SHC title to Shannonside.
While Limerick carry the confidence of champions to Pairc Ui Chaoimh, captain Donal O’Grady pointed out recently that no one had forgotten the pain of defeat.
After all, until last year, Limerick had won only one of their previous 17 Munster championship ties - Tipperary in the 2007 second replay.
Indeed until this year’s victory over Tipperary in Thurles, Limerick’s last championship win away from the Gaelic Grounds came in 2001 over Cork and Waterford in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
It’s that pain of the past that drives the current Limerick players to higher standards. Collectively and individually they have brought training and preparation standards to a new level and it’s this preparation that gives them the confidence to approach any opponent on equal footing.
Last week Gavin O’Mahony spoke of the key areas that can be controlled in terms of preparation. The general feeling is that Limerick, under manager TJ Ryan, coach Paul Beary, physical trainer Mark Lyons and selector Dave Clarke, are ticking all the necessary boxes.
So then it comes down to 70-minutes under the guidance of Brian Gavin on the Banks of the Lee.
Luck will play a part, the bounce of the ball, perhaps a refereeing call. But ultimately the 23rd Munster SHC final between Limerick and Cork will be decided by 30-odd players.
Mindful of the Pairc Ui Chaoimh factor Limerick travelled to Cork two weekends ago. They stayed overnight in the The Fota Island Resort and had a series of training sessions and team meetings over the weekend.
The majority of the Limerick players haven’t tasted senior championship action in the southern venue - just Paul Browne and Graeme Mulcahy are likely to remain in the starting team from the last outing in 2010.
For a variety of reasons Limerick will want to settle early. There will be huge emotion attached to the day as Cork say farewell to ‘The Park’ but from a Limerick point of view it will be hoping that this can be more of a burden than an inspiration - especially given the result in the football final.
In terms of home advantage, the supporters can only carry a team over the winning line after the team have put themselves in that position. If the Rebel yell is laudable, well then it’s up the The Green Army to prove their worth in the stands and terraces. If Limerick do get on top on the field the Cork crowd and thus the team could become very edgy.
An edgy, nervous Cork is just what Limerick need and why a high tempo start from TJ Ryan’s men is key. There must be concerns in this regard with just one game for the men in green, compared to three for Cork.
Cork have learned much in their games against Waterford and Clare and indeed their journey to the All Ireland final last year. Perceived frailties have received attention and hence Cork arrive on Sunday with the additions of dual players Aidan Walsh, Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan in their plans as well as the key additions of Bill Cooper and Alan Cadogen in attack.
Limerick meanwhile are working from pretty much the same pack as last year - albeit attacking duo Shane Dowling and Kevin Downes are now in the starting line-up.
But what a key duo they could be. Improvement will be needed and in attack there is certainly room for most to up the ante from the semi-final. In previous games Cork have opted to match-up their defenders to varying forwards and mindful of this the movement of the Limerick attack will need to be intelligent and pacy to exploit what could be Cork players out of position.
At the other end, Limerick’s defence is one of the most experienced in the championship with Paudie O’Brien the youngest at 24.
Discipline is a must for this unit with Horgan lethal from frees, while the full back line will have to decide if they are to play from the front of tricky attackers.
The midfield battle should be intriguing with similar players in either side, although Walsh will height advantage.
There is very much a ‘Yes We Can’ attitude about Limerick and in that we all trust.