'High stakes' in the latest Limerick and Clare hurling derby

Jerome O'Connell


Jerome O'Connell



'High stakes' in the latest Limerick and Clare hurling derby

LEGENDARY American basketball coach Pat Summitt died last week after a battle with Alzheimer's.

As a player and a coach she broke many barriers for female sport in the US.

This Saturday evening TJ Ryan leads his Limerick senior hurlers to Thurles for round two of the All Ireland SHC Qualifiers requiring their best performance of the last two seasons to beat Clare.

Pat Summitt was the author of three books, often referenced for their motivation qualities.

There is one saying attributed to Summitt that can hold much credence for Limerick ahead of the Clare game…... ‘you can't always be the strongest or most talented or most gifted person in the room, but you can be the most competitive’.

‘Competitive’ is very much the wish of all Limerick hurling supporters ahead of Saturday evening in Thurles.

Limerick simply can’t afford another ‘flat display’ with this new-look panel crying out for the confidence of a big game victory.

And, there is no doubting this would be a big win. 

Limerick are the 2/1 outsiders to reach a July 24 All Ireland quarter final against Galway or Tipperary/Waterford. The bookies had opened up the market with Limerick at 13/8 but with pretty much all money for Clare, Davy Fitzgerald’s side are now 1/2 hot favourites.

But Limerick did beat Clare just over 12-months ago in the Munster SHC.

That was one of the few bright spots in the past two years with telling defeats in league and championship to Tipperary, Dublin, Waterford and Clare. That Clare game last season in Thurles and this Spring’s league quarter final win over Dublin have been a poor return for a side that appears to have reached their heights in a 2014 All Ireland semi final defeat to Kilkenny.

This week Limerick manager TJ Ryan felt that his side could have turned a corner against Westmeath.

He points out that the tendency towards a second half collapse was avoided in Mullingar and that Limerick were “controlled and confident” in “professional” display.

Saturday will be the real test for progress though.

Back in March Limerick lost to Clare in the promotion deciding league encounter in Ennis. It was a game where Limerick had Barry Nash sent off and this has often been recalled in analysing the loss. To be fair Limerick did produce some fine passages of play in that opening half in Cusack Park but then failed to stay at the pitch of the tie in the second half.

On Saturday Limerick need a 70-minute performance and nothing less will see green success in the derby game, which is live on Sky Sports.

It appears Limerick will select from a full panel. The two championship games to-date have seen 24 different players utilised.

This week Davy Fitzgerald described the tie as one of “high stakes”.

“There is no easy games at this stage of the Championship. This is knockout hurling and we know we will be punished if our intensity and hurling isn't at 100%,” said Fitzgerald.

”Limerick beat us at this stage of the Championship 2012 and again in the Munster Championship last year. There has been nothing between the sides in past fixtures and this weekend will be the same. I cannot wait for the game. I'm sure TJ (Ryan) is no different. This is what you want. High stakes hurling in the middle of summer,” said the Sixmilebridge man, who will have Monaleen’s Paul Kinnerk and Bruff’s Seoirse Bulfin in his dugout on Saturday.

Fitzgerald’s Clare hit Laois for five goals last Saturday and Limerick will have to find the net if they are to defy the odds in Thurles. Three top quality saves denied further Limerick goals in Mullingar and hopefully those green flags have been held in reserve until Saturday.

All in Limerick are awaiting one big display from TJ Ryan’s men. There is ability in the panel but the form lines have not been good. The Westmeath game was a step forward but the midlanders were also beaten last season and then Limerick failed to build upon that when losing to Dublin in the following game. That Dublin defeat and a failure to make the 2015 quarter finals is still a source of hurt. Lessons will have been learned and Saturday offers the chance to make amends.