Holders Must Expect A Limerick Crusade
Exam time is upon us, with honours not awarded till July. Tipp. have secured provincial primacy four times in the last five years and go to Limerick next Sunday undefeated by any Munster rival in successive seasons. Limerick haven’t laid hands on the trophy since 1996, so favouritism, whether we like it or not, will be thrust upon us and defeat would be regarded as a major upset. The odd feature of the recent history is that the only year we failed in Munster the game’s major accolade was gained in September 2010. We certainly won’t be any the less earnest on Sunday on account of that unreliable precedent.
Time was when we seemed to be very frequent visitors to the Gaelic Grounds. That was in the days before Tipp. and Cork arrived at a treaty ordaining alternate home and away games. The same diplomacy vis-a-vis Limerick is now in force, with their trip to Thurles last year obliging us to return the compliment. Memory of that game at the Stadium will be in itself a caution against over confidence of this clash. Limerick will seek to draw optimism from their bold effort on that occasion. We got quite a fright when they added six successive points to the single one which was to their credit account at the break. Seven down posed quite a task, to win by five hardly imaginable. “Buggy” O’Meara latched onto the break from a “Bonner” Maher dash to which it past Quaid and transformed the picture. Pa Bourke, Conor O’Brien, Seamus Bourke and a Callanan brace endorsed the crucial goal as we scored 1-11 against 0-3 during the recovery. Home venue is sure to be an encouraging thought for the side under John Allen’s calm management. They’ll be out of traps with elan and have local voices raised in support of the bid to keep Tipp. under pressure. One hears that a “friendly” with Kilkenny went quite well for them. On the other hand, our Under 21’s won well on Friday evening, with senior candidate Jason Forde outshining their Shane Dowling and Declan Hannon.
The only meeting of the sides this year has been in a Waterford Crystal game in late January at Nenagh. No real evidence was provided - nor would it have been expected to in so uncompetitive an atmosphere. Limerick failed to score from play in the second half and lost by ten, though they fielded about four “probables” for Sunday in Hickey, Moran, Dowling and Tobin. Clearly, the result wasn’t a big issue for them at that time of year. We did not meet in the subsequent League - Dublin’s Boland scored a late winner to end Limerick’s campaign and avert any further meeting with Tipp. Our big margin over the Dubs was not flattering to a Limerick team that could as easily have beaten them. Perhaps Allen was just as pleased to avoid a fairly serious rehearsal for the championship. Eamonn O’Shea wouldn’t have been unhappy, either to have the meeting deferred till summer. The wait will add to the tension.
This being our first championship appearance since the downfall last August against the Cats puts a degree of pressure on us. It’s a comfort that Kilkenny belong to a different constituency than the one we’ve more or less dominated since 2008. That season saw our last fixture at the Gaelic Grounds, the Munster final victory over Clare, we lost to Waterford in the semifinal and the Decies took a final posting from Kilkenny. The previous year was that of the marathon three and a half games against Limerick, lost in extra time by Shannonside and terminated later by Wexford’s goalie Fitzhenry’s lethal free. After which, Babs quit from a luckless second coming.
Our mood has thus far been somewhat uplifted by the succession of O’Shea to the leadership, he brought with him the plus factor of association with Liam Sheedy in the 2010 sensation. The signs are of wise and thoughtful decision making and a committed panel. Reaching the League final was a positive, even if the outcome was negative at Nowlan Park with the margin way more tolerable than Croke Park had been.
The selection will surely start with Cummins in goal even if Darren Gleeson did soundly in the loss to Kilkenny. The omission of Brendan would be a reminder of what happened in the Stadium for the second season in 2007 against Limerick and was maintained all the way to the Wexford game. Paddy Stapleton seems to be fit to regain the right corner, with Curran and Cahill completing the line. If the choice of Kieran Bergin was out of the blue for the League Final he did well enough to be again named. Interesting and noteworthy to have a Killenaule player in the spot so well associated with the same club’s Declan Fanning. O’Mahony and Padraig Maher are obvious picks beside him, the brief spell for Conor as full back hasn’t led to anything like permanent. The wing is now seen as Padraig’s best berth, at least on the county side.
Brendan Maher, in sublime form of late, will probably partner Shane McGrath at midfield. Shane has become rather subject to injury over the past year or two, not being of robust build, his forte is the lively sprint through the middle.
It’s ironic that, twelve months on, we will again back Lar Corbett for a different reason than voluntary absence. He came off worst from the double exertion of Cats’ physical pressure. There appears to be an opening for young Jason Forde, especially after Friday evening’s form. “Bonner’s” importance was shown a year ago against the same opposition, whether it be on the “forty” or on a wing. His best days have been in the central berth. Noel McGrath is versatile too. In Lar’s absence, Noel becomes an even more important contributor. There’s a case for a place for “Buggy” O’Meara from the start against a Limerick defence apt to be tough on our ball players. Eoin Kelly appears to be playing well enough to be automatic for, perhaps, a corner. The other insider could be from a choice of Pa Bourke, John O’Brien, John O’Dwyer, Seamus Callanan and Shane Bourke.
“Opportunity knocks” could be a Limerick dressing-room slogon. They’ll need no verbal motivating with the knowledge that the country would take notice of dethronement for the holders and that a Munster final place would bring them into the kind of limelight unseen for ages. A lot of changes are likely to be made from last year’s choice but Quaid, McCarthy, Condon, McNamara, O’Mahony, James Ryan, Breen, Allis, Dowling, Mulcahy, Downes, Hannon and Tobin are among the candidates. We’ll have to discourage them from the start and not allow a head of steam to be built up. The pace will be furious. All else, Crystal, League or challenge is mere shadow-boxing compared to a championship clash. Certainly, Tipp. will be expected to cope with whatever they meet. Anything else would be a rude check to the optimism generated thus far.
So it’s Cork v Clare for the second semi final, to be played in sight of the green hills of the Banner. Davy’s youths came exuberantly from behind for a margin earlier unthinkable.
Had the Decies not squandered third quarter chances and been awarded a string of frees in getting within one - and had the experienced Moran not chosen the wrong option after Kelly’s free was blocked, things might have gone differently. But once Clare recaptured their early panache the issue was going to the more eager and urgent side. Opinion will not be at all overwhelming in favour of a Cork success on the pitch where Jimmy Barry Murphy’s side suffered the drop for next year’s League. Clare’s progress had brought a fresh element to the provincial series. We’ll be hoping to have a continuing interest in the competition while watching Clare’s bid for an even bigger scalp.