Lar Corbett: Limerick intend to raise the bar and they know they need to
Key men are back as Treaty look to kick on
This time the elephant in the room is real – and it has a name, Limerick.
Having strolled through the League programme at their ease, while regularly resting up to five All-Stars, the Treaty men appear far ahead of the chasing pack as the Munster Championship begins today.
The Limerick management’s look-back at 2022 was fairly simple. Well done, but we cut it way too close, too often.
Three defeats in the 2022 League stages. Three draws with Clare, including in a Munster final.
Both Galway and Kilkenny were right with them with 65 minutes on the clock in the clutch matches.
They got the job done brilliantly, every time, but only just – and too often in the last 10 minutes.
Limerick’s 2023 targets are simple: An improved panel with better options off the bench – tick.
All the key men back on board, fit and hungry – tick. Cian Lynch back to his best – tick.
Limerick approach 2023 in the best shape of John Kiely’s reign. They deserve to be spoken about among the great teams, are deservedly raging-hot favourites for the All-Ireland, but you still have to go and win it.
Limerick are the best team, but any drop in intensity, a few injuries, a few mad ambitious refs anxious to impress, (and there are a right few mad refs out there), and they can be caught.
Against this backdrop, Wexford, Kilkenny, Cork, Clare and Waterford seem to have regressed. Seem. None went hard at it for the League. Instead, they chose to build steadily, prioritise finding new players and mind their key men.
What version of Waterford will emerge this year? 2021’s second best team in the country, only a few points off Limerick and building with a talented young team – or the 2022 also-rans that lost their edge?
Waterford will bring a huge fight, intensity and fitness to today’s clash. Davy Fitzgerald will have set his sights on making headlines in the first round of the Championship against the All-Ireland champions since the draw was made.
They’ll keep seven backs, two deep wing-forwards, three in midfield. Until they gain possession. Then they’ll move forward together, going short, retaining possession.
They’ll aim to run the ball at every opportunity, hoping to break through the Limerick lines with support runners moving into space – or, failing that, win handy frees in the middle third.
Expect to see football levels of handpassing and frees in the first quarter, yes that many.
I’d expect Waterford to come out swinging, lead through 25 minutes, sprint off the field at half-time whipping up their “home” support in Thurles.
As the clock ticks on the Limerick machine will grind them down.
So the Treaty county will get a challenge for a while, but they’ll stick to their guns, sort things on the field and overcome Waterford to set themselves up to win their first Championship match of 2023.
When is a first round a final round? Tipperary versus Clare today. Whoever wins this one can look forward to qualifying from the province.
For the loser the shadow of exiting in Munster will hang over them for the next six weeks.
Clare just about did enough in the League to get ready for today. The Banner had a superb 2022 Munster Championship but didn’t turn up against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.
They retain all the key men, know their best team and replacements, have experience and are at home.
Tipp will hope Brian Lohan’s era has reached a peak and Clare may struggle to lift themselves to last year’s levels.
Tipperary have, through necessity, refreshed the team, look hungry and driven under Liam Cahill.
Along with Limerick they looked like the only side trying to drive on during the League. A display like the first half of the League semi-final against Limerick, but over the full 70 minutes, would get Tipp over this hurdle.
However, Tipp will still have half their team in their first or second year of senior Championship hurling. Championship hurling at this pace is like Mike Tyson’s line “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” They are learning, fast, but their supporters still need to give the younger players time.
It’s only April, but the year is on the on line in many ways for both sides.
A draw would give both prolonged hope and may prove the game and the result of the weekend.
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