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Lar Corbett: Limerick are insulted that their credentials are being questioned

GAA anger to fire champs and rebels to get job done

25 March 2023; Players including William O'Donoghue of Limerick, 9, and Alan Tynan of Tipperary, 9, tussle before the throw-in to start the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Semi-Final match between Limerick and Tipperary at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

22 January 2023; Limerick manager John Kiely during the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League Group 2 match between Kerry and Limerick at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Kerry. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

19 March 2023; John Conlon of Clare is tackled by Dáire O’Leary of Cork during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A match between Clare and Cork at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

19 March 2023; John Conlon of Clare is tackled by Dáire O’Leary of Cork during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A match between Clare and Cork at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

For the first time in six years, Limerick are facing the real possibility of an early exit from the Championship. If Cork beat Clare and Tipperary defeat Limerick today, then 2023 is over for John Kiely’s men.

The bookies have Tipperary as outsiders, but Tipp supporters have found real hope in the way Liam Cahill has brought fresh players and energy to their hurling this year.

Tipperary are at home, they’re hurling well and can look forward to playing in front of a full house on a fine summer’s day, with upwards of 46,000 expected in Semple Stadium.

They’ll relish the chance to knock out the champions as they’ve suffered more than most at Limerick’s hands over the last five years.

Kiely’s men have won their last six major encounters, with the games following a similar pattern, with Tipp starting well and leading at the break. But this has only served to poke the bear – and Limerick have awoken to give Tipp a good hiding in the various second halves.

What to expect from Limerick today? Lots.

Three weeks have passed since that Clare defeat. There’s been some talk of discontent among players and management, but all that’s gone very quiet of late. There’s been no talk of the injuries, no excuses about the media building them up, no player interviews or promos.

Limerick are mad, insulted that their credentials are being questioned so quickly.

For six years, they’ve trusted their system, refusing to change regardless of the opposition and it has worked brilliantly – at least until this year. When Jason Forde ran riot in the first half in a free role as a double centre-forward in the 2021 Munster final, Limerick never blinked, sticking to their structure and personnel on the field. It worked then, but will the same approach suffice now?

Much was made of them getting the same 15 on the field for the first round of this year’s Championship as played in 2020.

They’ve largely relied on the same personnel and system. But it might be time for Paul Kinnerk to adjust.

Take the example of marking Tony Kelly in their last game. Limerick didn’t go with a man-marking approach and it backfired, with Tony finding lots of space and dictating the play over the critical last 20 minutes.

No-one really nailed him. Compare that to Tipperary’s approach in Ennis and the job Cathal Barrett did. Before Tony was allowed to build momentum and get into the game, he was manmarked. Whevever Tony went, Cathal was with him.

The last team on a similar run to Limerick was Kilkenny.

Through the four-in-a-row years, Brian Cody also stuck to their system. Brian Hogan stayed put in front of the D, six backs held their positions and picked up whoever came into their area. Play centre-forward and you came up against Hogan. Play full-forward and you met Noel Hickey.

After 2010, that changed. Kilkenny moved to man-marking where necessary. Limerick are now at a similar juncture. To sustain their success, they need to evolve because the others are closing in.

Every team now is retaining possession as a policy. Teams are now, just about, matching Limerick for fitness and physicality.

The champions’ efficiency in front of the posts is no better than the other teams. That Clare defeat was coming.

Limerick have been in the same position in the last 10 minutes six times in the last two years and emerged to win. But if you keep playing with fire, sooner or later you’re going to get burnt.

What will they bring today?

If it’s what we saw in the first two games, Tipp will beat them and the bookies.

However, given the three weeks to prepare, the experience on the field and line, and the injection of anger that a defeat brings, I expect Limerick to take the field as a different animal – wounded and fighting for its life, reminding us why they’re favourites for Liam MacCarthy.

Elsewhere, whoever wins Cork-Clare could rightly claim to be the best team on form in the Championship. Cork need to win to prove they are contenders, but questions abound.

Has Pat Ryan made enough of a difference? Has their defending improved enough to hold Clare to under 25 points?

On Monday their U-20s – the best team in that Championship – were faced with the Banner in full cry, leading by four with 11 minutes left. They faced a real test. They answered it.

Now it’s the turn of their seniors to show that steel.

Based on not much evidence, there’s a sense Cork are getting it together and so, hesitantly, I’m picking them to get across the line today.

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