A NOVEL beginning to the Munster championship.
A bill featuring senior hurling and football fixtures is the stadium attraction next Sunday and clearly designed to draw attention to the Tipperary v Kerry meeting.
As a “stand alone” game it would have had much fewer observers. Joined with the Tipperary v Limerick hurling clash it will have stronger appeal. For the fourth season in-a-row we throw in the ball for the hurling series with a quarter-final date. Three times it was Cork in opposition, this time it’s a Limerick team that will be obvious underdogs but will surely be battling for their own and John Allen’s sake. Tipp need to rebound from a modest league that ended for us in fading fashion against eventual runners-up Cork. Defeat would be, to put it plainly, a severe collapse in Tipp’s prestige.
The last meeting with Limerick, then under Justin McCarthy, was in the ‘09 semi-final. Tipp amassed 6-19 and were never bothered after a Lucey slip let in Eoin Kelly for an immediate easy goal - it was 3-8 to 0-4 at the break. Noel McGrath, Pat Kerwick and Lar Corbett made it four green ones and the rout continued in that strain to gain the visa to the luckless tilt at Kilkenny.
Previous to that by two years was Limerick’s eventual victory at the third attempt over Keating’s side. The middle game of the three-tier saga will always be recalled as the occasion of Cummins’ omission - he missed five caps in all as Gerry Kennedy replaced him and the campaign ended with the loss to Wexford and Babs’ departure. The curious thing is that Brendan’s rift with the manager arose from an unwillingness to vary the puck-outs between the long and the short - the ‘keeper has adopted a more varied policy in recent times! No doubt Babs has noticed!
The rivalry with the Shannonsiders is one of the oldest in the game and in general we’ve seldom had it easy against them. Mick Mackey’s era of the 1930s was a golden one for a team that dominated Munster and colected several All-Irelands. Tipp broke the pattern in 1937 under Jim Lanigan’s captaincy and repeated in 1945 with John Maher of Killinan. The years 1946-48 saw Tipp go down heavily in Cork in the later years of Jackie Power and John Mackey. In 1966 they broke Tipp’s sequence of All-Irelands. Not till 1973 did Limerick gain an All-Ireland under Eamon Grimes and their blank continues - the losses to Offaly and Wexford in 1994 and 1996 were both avoidable. Not so the most recent September appearance against Kilkenny in 2007. A run of three under-21 titles has not been exploited at senior grade. The most recent Limerick impact has been the win by Na Piarsaigh in the Munster club competition, not carried to national level.
An oval ball has obviously challenged the sliotar seriously for public support in that region over the past decade or so, and for the loyalty of the youth. Still, there has to be a strong desire to see this county make a hurling impact against the neigbours and one can expect a nothing-to-lose bid on Sunday. The unfortunate defeat to Clare in the group play-off of the league has led to Ciaran Carey’s exit from Allen’s cabinet on grounds of dissent from the preparation format, thought he confessed to having had ambition to get the managerial brief himself before another Corkman succeeded Donal O’Grady and Justin.
The injur to Seamus Hickey is badly timed for them - he’d have been a leader in defence against a Tipp attack likely to be strengthened by full availability apart from the expected exclusion of the returned prodigal in Corbett.
Younger Limerick attacking material in Downes - back in training - Hannon and Dowling should give them a formation up front needing tighter Tipp defending than has lately been witnessed. A “friendly” against Galway in Athenry, minus all the named, was lost by five points. They brought in Brian Geary, David Breen, Gavin O’Mahony, Tom Condon and a pair of O’Brien’s at various stages. Donal O’Grady and Niall Moran were the veterans on show in that outing at centre-back and full-forward, respectively. Nickey Quaid in goal continues the family tradition of the late excellent Tommy out of Joe of the ‘90s teams of little luck in finals.
Tipp, too, had a challenge game last week against Wexford behind, oddly, closed doors at the stadium. The oddness of the privacy is hard to fathom, but it left intending witnesses excluded - quite a change from the “come and meet the players” invitation lately offered! I hear that some people had come from Wexford to see some of their own in action - and never got to do so. Bizarre is the word for this kind of decision, was it Wexford’s or ours?
Anyhow, apparently the home selection won by a couple of points. Can I break embargo to reveal what team we fielded? Unused were Noel McGrath, Thomas Stapleton, James Woodlock and Seamus Callanan at the start. Lar Corbett was also excused for the whole session as expected. The line-up was: Cummins, Donagh Maher, Curran, Cahill, O’Keeffe, O’Mahony, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Shane McGrath, Gearoid Ryan, Patrick Maher, Pa Bourke, Kelly, O’Meara, O’Brien. Several substitutions were made.
The main choices and placings at issue seem to be at right half-back, midfield and half-forward. Thomas Stapleton had appeared to gain priority at number five and could get the nod. A Maher-McGrath midfield also looks quite likely, unless Brendan is to be on the flank of defence and Woodlock at midfield. Noel McGrath being a certainty for a wing-forward spot after “Bonner’s” welcome come back, is thee to be a choice between Gearoid Ryan and Pa Bourke for the other wing? Gearoid is, of course, also a possible midfielder. Seamus Callanan, many opine, is a better recruit than original nominee - he certainly has bright current form for his club. The strength and thrust of “Buggy” O’Meara is likely to gain him the full-forward shirt and John O’Brien’s experience the left corner. Eoin Kelly, if not leaving back men “dead” as he used to, is automatic on the opposite side.
All in all, we ought to be still Munster holders at the end of the contest, though over-sureness never looks well in print.
We’ve had by far the higher profile and enjoyed way better success over the past four seasons since the defeat of the Babs side. All of which may provoke the visitors to perform with drive and spirit in the hope of disrupting the undoubted favourites. Cork await the winners on June 24th, while Clare v Waterford is a week earlier.
The admirable win by the minor footballers in - and over - Cork in midweek sets up a final against Kerry, as well as coming on last year’s great success into the season. The prospects for the seniors against the Kingdom have to be slender. Early signs of challenging will be very welcome to the home supporters, but a triumph would be ultra-sensational.