County champions Loughmore Castleiney revert to the small ball on Sunday afternoon next when they welcome Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh to Semple Stadium for the AIB Munster Club senior hurling quarter final tie.
Tipperary’s standard bearers have had a gruelling series of games over the last two months with the hurling and football championships running together. And, their win over Clonmel Commercials in last Sunday’s football semi-final means that Declan Laffen’s men will also represent Tipperary in the Munster Club senior football championship, win or lose the final. Aherlow Gaels - their opponents in the football decider are regarded as a combination and cannot qualify for the Munster competition, even if they were to emerge victorious.
But back to the hurling. The county champions have been surfing on the crest of a winning wave in recent weeks and the confidence gained from having captured the Dan Breen Cup in such dramatic fashion where they showed once more, their unique winning capabilities, will certainly infuse them with a mindframe of positivity. They have grown in stature over the the course of the last few weeks, but they have also grown very close and that togetherness has resulted in them fighting for each other to rasp out victories, when other sides would have capitulated. Any team coming down the final straight with Loughmore Castleiney discover that they are a very difficult side to shake off and Na Piarsaigh will discover likewise on Sunday if the game is going down to the wire.
The Limerick champions have experience of this stage, but so too do Loughmore Castleiney. And, like the Tipp reps, Na Piaraigh have their marquee names too. All of this points to a potentially cracking clash in Semple Stadium on Sunday and patrons will be in for a real treat if the game takes off.
Having played football alongside the hurling code, the big fear for the Tipp champions, is that the legs will begin to feel the strain of exertion. The games have been coming thick and fast and each one has forced them to raise the bar further still with each outing. But, they have managed to find an extra level each time and when they take to Semple Stadium on Sunday they will seek to raise that bar once more notch.
Declan Laffen and his management team will be impressing upon their charges the importance of playing for the full hour, as they did for the second half of the county final. On that day, they had a lot of work to do in the second quarter to make up for a slow start - Nenagh Eire Og could have been a lot more comfortable by the interval. But, it was a different Loughmore in the second half and once they managed to get Noel McGrath firing, the game moved in their direction. Of course Noel will be key again on Sunday and the hope will be that Loughmore Castleiney will be able to channel play towards him. David Kennedy will again be key to this in attack and with the likes of Evan Sweeney and Liam McGrath also up there for company, the scores can roll. Ciaran McGrath popped up too for a vital score in the County Final while Tomas McGrath is no stranger to getting in the act, as well as Cian Hennessy.
However, the big one for Loughmore Castleiney will be the driving influence of John Meagher at centre back. He had a massive County Final and when Nenagh Eire Og were well on top, he did much to repel them and keep the scores at a minimum. His defending, covering and distribution tends to lift the side and he always seems to be available to take ball off the full back line too, especially Derek Bourke directly behind him at full back. With Meagher, Aidan McGrath and Tom King forming a very potent line on the 40, any team will find it hard to break them down. Rather curious then that 11 of Nenagh’s 17 scores came off that line - it was the way the game was set up and Loughmore Castleiney will be anxious to keep things as tight again in the full back line, while hoping to curb things a bit more on the forty. Aidan McGrath remains a doubt for the big game having picked up a hamstring injury after just 8 minutes of the football last Sunday - the price, perhaps, of too many big games in a short space of time. His long range shooting would be sorely missed were he to be missing.