Eoin Kelly: Settled Tipp team to see off Limerick

GAABy Eoin Kelly
Tipp's John McGrath was exceptional against Cork
Tipp's John McGrath was exceptional against Cork

EVERY hurling fan who is planning to be in Thurles this afternoon will be earnestly hoping – maybe even praying – that today’s showdown will provide a better spectacle than the quarter-final between Tipperary and Cork.

The awful weather can only be partially to blame for the fact that the contest did not live up to expectation.  So we live in hope for what today’s game has in store. 

Limerick appear to be in some disarray this year and it’s hard to know what kind of a challenge they will put up against the defending Munster title holders.

Traditionally, games between the two counties in the Munster championship have been tight affairs, with rarely more than a few scores between them. 

Last year was an exception, however. Having lost to Limerick in their previous two championship clashes, Tipperary blew them away both physically and hurling wise to win by 16 points. It was interesting that the game was in the Gaelic Grounds, as it is a venue where traditionally Tipperary struggled to beat the home side.

Tipp, though, did not want to be beaten three years on the trot by Limerick in the championship.

Right from the start you could see the intent in Tipperary’s play. The only exception was a 15-minute spell after the break when Limerick owned the ball, but could not put enough scores on the board to take the lead at this crucial time – interestingly the same thing happened in this year’s quarter-final against Cork.

During that period in last season’s contest, Limerick reverted back to their conventional defensive set-up with their six backs playing in their positions. 

They completely tied up the Tipperary forward line until the visitors found space again and blew Limerick’s challenge away.

The leaders in the Tipperary attack that day were Seamus Callanan and ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer. On the basis of what we saw against Cork, the form of both  seems good.

Tipperary seem to have a more settled team coming into this game and they have the luxury of a championship win under their belts. 

All the newcomers performed well the last day out, with John McGrath (below)exceptional. Overall, though, Michael Ryan would have been disappointed that the game was so tame. 

Limerick are a strong, physical team and are capable of knocking a big team off their perch. Their problem is that they don’t maintain that form.

They tend to play some of their best hurling against Tipperary and Kilkenny. It’s as if they relish the challenge of taking on these two traditional powers.  

We all know Limerick have good hurlers: they are the current All-Ireland U-21 title holders, while their county champions Na Piarsaigh are the club kings.

Players from the county were also to the fore in the historic victory achieved by Mary Immaculate College in the Fitzgibbon Cup this spring. 

Centre-forward Cian Lynch and full-forward Declan Hannon formed the spine of the college’s attack. My belief is that Limerick would profit from deploying them in the number 11 and 14 shirts today, as both players need to be involved in the thick of the action to influence a game.

With five of last year’s All-Ireland U-21 winning team to start, it will be particularly interesting to see how Limerick’s defence shapes up. They hurl best when they go with six backs in the conventional positions; their midfielders drop back and the whole team up their work rate and play with aggression. However, we haven’t seen them do that since 2014.

The midfield match-up will be key, with Paul Browne and James Ryan coming up against Tipp’s in-form duo of Brendan Maher and Michael Breen.  

I expect Tipperary to win, with the half-back line supplying enough ammunition for Tipperary’s forwards to continue their rich vein of form.

Verdict: Tipperary.