In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely reckons that the Limerick hurlers can get the better of Tipperary once again.
I have attended a fair few championship matches already this year in both hurling and football but sadly as of yet they have lacked the real flair of the championship.
The buzz was not there and while some games were close they lacked the magic that is so special to the GAA’s premier competition. All that will change on Sunday at the Gaelic Grounds when old rivals Limerick and Tipperary meet for the fourth year in a row. This to me could be a defining game for both teams. Of course the loser has the back door but the winner is just an hour away from the last four and that’s the place to be.
This is a massive pressure game for both teams. I know that Tipperary have marked this on their diary for a while now and they feel if they are to go anywhere this year they need to leave the province as champions. Under Eamon O’Shea Tipperary are still looking to win silverware and while he might play that one down it’s still very much a talking point within Tipperary. Limerick has never feared Tipperary and having the game at home is worth a few points. It’s looking like a very big crowd and that will add to the occasion but while home advantage will suit Limerick they too are under a fair degree of pressure.
The word in Tipperary over the past few days is that they have lots of lads with injuries but they will be grand on the day. Deep down this Tipperary team are hurting, they have not delivered on the promise they have. To their credit they did push Kilkenny to the brink last year but as a unit they need to win silverware to answer the questions that still exist about them.
Over the past few years Tipperary to me are trying to play perfection hurling. They have some great stickmen and can play crisp hurling but they were found wanting against a few teams. I noticed in the National League semi final (a game Tipperary had little interest in) that they are far stronger than they were back last September. The upper body strength of the majority of the players was very noticeable and that plays a part in the modern game. Make no bones about it Tipperary have worked very hard and I expect them to show that on Sunday.
Limerick had to hang on at the end against Clare and the management will have learned a lot from that game. To me the backs will be under huge pressure but then again that has been the way for a while now. At times they looked at sea against Clare but to their credit they survived some very scary moments. They might have a few of them again on Sunday but as a unit they will need to be a lot sharper than they were against Clare.
I think Tipperary will be very direct and they are sure to spray the ball left and right of the ‘D’ but I am hearing they will go very direct to Seamus Callinan who will be marking Richie McCarthy. Gavin O’Mahony will also be busy and it looks like he will be marking Bonner Maher. The Kilmallock man had a good game against Clare but Maher is a handful and makes things happen for Tipperary. Will Wayne McNamara get the nod for Limerick?
I have seen Tipperary come to town with bigger names on the team over the last 30 years and for some reason they always find Limerick very difficult to beat. Work rate could be the key to Limerick winning on Sunday. Yes they will also have to play good hurling but if they work hard and ask questions of Tipperary early then this is a game they can win.
In the Clare game Limerick won with only ten of the starting 15 making a major contribution but if that’s the case on Sunday then they will find it very difficult to win. How Limerick set up could also have a major bearing on the result. The half forward line struggled against Clare and a repeat of that will be punished by Tipperary.
Limerick has a few players back and that will strengthen the team and the panel but from what I have seen in the Tipperary training sessions Limerick will need to be well organised and not wait for the game to develop.
I think this game on Sunday will be a physical contest and Limerick won’t be too worried about that. What was most telling from the Clare game was that when they ran at the Limerick backs they caused havoc. Aaron Cunningham for one of his goals beat five Limerick defenders and that might have taken up a bit of time in training over the past few weeks. Will Limerick play a sweeper? Will Paul Browne start because he is well equipped to play this role?
Browne is not a half forward and his performances in recent years at midfield have been vital to Limerick. He is too important to the team to be on the periphery.
Tipperary are seen as genuine All Ireland contenders and that has been the case now for the last few years. They have a crop of players of some quality and it’s felt they have under achieved. For many on the team this might be their last chance of leaving the stage with more silverware. Tipperary is still hurting from that loss to Kilkenny in last year’s All Ireland final. It’s that hurt that is driving them more than anything this year.
Limerick too have some unfinished business. This is a good group of players that are capable of moving forward. They need to win another Munster championship to continue to build confidence within the team but I am sure the management are looking no further than this game.
Tipperary are not without their own problems. They have found it hard to fill the full back position and in that regard I think Shane Dowling could have a big impact on this game. He is razor sharp from frees but he needs the right type of ball that will keep him close to the square and that way he becomes a serious goal threat and target man.
I mentioned last week that I felt David Breen should start at centre forward and it will be interesting to see what the management have in mind in this area. Padraig Maher is a big man and is very important to the Tipperary challenge, Breen would match him for size and more importantly would turn him. Maher is a very strong man but he is not blessed with great speed and many times will deliver from over the shoulder. Breen or whoever is marking him must stand him up and not allow him run with the ball. The Limerick half forward line will need to work very hard and must not allow their men forward.
Mental strength and will to win are vital in championship games and in that regard Limerick have proven themselves on so many occasions over the years against Tipperary.
The jury is still out on Tipperary and until they win a championship this team will have questions to answer to hurling people both inside and outside the county. They have the quality to beat Limerick and indeed go a long way in this championship but I feel if Limerick have their homework done they can win this game.
It will require them to be smart and play really good hurling but they have a great chance of winning if they take the game to Tipperary. I feel the management will have to make a couple of big calls in picking their team but they might be rewarded for such calls if they choose to make them.
Limerick are on the verge of a third Munster final appearance and I feel they can deliver.