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Lar Corbett: Limerick have three big challengers in All-Ireland battle

GAA work rate and turnovers hold the keys

29 April 2023; Tom Morrissey of Limerick is tackled by John Conlon of Clare during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 2 match between Limerick and Clare at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

2 July 2022; Referee Fergal Horgan during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Clare at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

29 April 2023; Tom Morrissey of Limerick is tackled by John Conlon of Clare during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 2 match between Limerick and Clare at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Lar Corbett

The all-time greats produce their best when it matters most – and this Limerick side has shown us that once they get into an All-Ireland final, they change gears.

But the flip side? At this time of year, they’re at their most vulnerable. The green machine hasn’t been humming at full capacity of late – and if the four in a row is to be halted, the best chance of doing so is in the hyper-competitive Munster championship.

Two dots make a trend and below-par performances against Waterford and Clare showed us the champions are now within touching distance of the rest.

The quality and intensity of those games made it clear that most teams put very little into the league and Limerick took full advantage, but it gave us a misleading impression of the gulf between them and the rest.

Think back to 2022: Limerick cut it fine all year, winning many tight affairs in the last 10 minutes.

But who will stop them? For me, Clare, Cork, Kilkenny and Galway can harbour realistic ambitions of going all the way.

For me, Tipperary are at an earlier development stage but on an upward curve, while Waterford will struggle to exit Munster after literally missing their chances against Limerick.

All rival managers will now forensically study Limerick’s opening games to find areas to exploit.

The keys? Matching Limerick’s work rate, tracking their runners off the ball – as has long been the norm in football – and getting in the face of the man in possession.

Opposition teams are going man-on-man with the champions, so the Limerick player with the ball can’t be allowed two or three options for a short pass, as they were in the league.

If you reduce passing options, you increase the chance of a turnover.

That’s a huge part of beating Limerick. It’s a measure of their greatness that a turnover is valued like a score, but it’s not just about possession. It gives great belief across all lines and to supporters, which has a ripple effect.

Limerick were only a couple of points ahead of Clare, Galway and Kilkenny last year, and they haven’t slipped much – if at all.

They had a sending-off and some key injuries to explain those performances, with an unusual 15 wides against Clare.

The reality is that the opposition is improving and in tight games, small setbacks tip the balance from narrow victories to narrow defeats.

For years, they’ve blazed a trail with their style, but teams have become more comfortable fighting the torrent of big bodies in the middle third.

I’ve no doubt Limerick will bounce back strongly and it will still take a seismic effort – beyond even what Clare put in – to stop them.

Of course, lots of people in the hurling world didn’t even get to see what Clare did, given it was behind a paywall. That’s such a pity.

For so many, young and old, not to see the superb Saturday evening games of recent weeks is a real loss to the enjoyment and promotion of hurling.

Not everyone has good Wi-Fi, can purchase online or is able to afford it.

The hurling population is small and it risks being swamped by the sheer quantity of football matches. Our best championship games should be free-to-air.

If RTÉ don’t want to air them on Saturday evenings, put them where there’s real support and promotion for the game: TG4.

Another major issue in the game is the refereeing situation. Abuse of refs is wrong and it has to stop. But what’s also true, especially at inter-county level, is that the standard must improve.

Post-game, after the players’ performance, the next topic of conversation among fans is the ref.

That’s not abuse, it’s reality. Yet, you could hear the fear in Marty Morrissey’s voice last Sunday as Michael Duignan questioned why Galway couldn’t get a free for half an hour.

The see-no-evil approach won’t work. The loss of top refs Fergal Horgan and David Coldrick shows no one involved is happy with the process and support provided in training, improving and rewarding refs.

Of all the players, subs and officials on the field, who has the most influence on the result? The ref.

Who has the worst preparation in terms of fitness and coaching? The ref.

Key decisions were very poor at critical times last weekend. That they didn’t affect the direction of the championship was luck.

The solution? Copy other sports. Communicate in advance of match day with teams, instead of a lecture for the cameras to the two captains before throw-in. There’s a lot of full-time employees in the organisation; why not a few refs? Eight full-time refs, properly rewarded, would cover the inter-county game and serve it so well.

My hope is we won’t be talking about a key decision knock ing a team out of a championship in the weeks ahead, but my fear is that we will. The game deserves better.

Any feedback is most welcome. Reach me at

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