The lingering narrative after Tipperary’s six point win over Limerick in Semple Stadium was in stark contrast to the one that had been bought and sold throughout the course of the league and early stages of the Munster championship. Limerick’s strength in depth was now being referred to as it’s B-team, a weakness rather than a strength. Limerick didn’t want to win anyway, despite navigating the league with just one blot in its copy book, and that another loss would make it two defeats in the Munster round robin having cultivated a taste for victory in the past 18 months with ultra competitive panel members. Sure enough, the Limerick training sessions are known to be fiercely competitive, with competition for places all over the field, and the notion that they go out and take Tipperary lightly an absolutely laughable consideration.
Limerick tried hard against Tipperary, they were just beaten on the day by a better performance. Upon reflection, they were lucky not to lose by more had Tipperary’s radar not been wayward early on.
Sunday will undoubtedly be a different prospect, and shape more towards the do-or-die, win-or-your-out matches of old, even though both are safely in the All-Ireland series. The prize is a provincial title that would mean Limerick would hold all titles Liam MacCarthy teams compete for, or that Tipperary are the real deal and Liam Sheedy’s return a glorious blessing with silverware the stamp of approval.
The Shannonsiders should return to a full complement, with Graeme Mulcahy, Gearóid Hegarty, Cian Lynch and Declan Hannon reverting to their starting roles. The last of those should serve biggest impact. The movement and rotation of Tipp forwards would dizzy the heads of defenders, but captain Hannon is the best player to try and nullify that. Limerick’s defence play better when he’s there, including his wing back pair. They were run ragged in Thurles, leaving Tipperary acres of space to poach into, but his presence should negate the free-flowing attack somewhat.
Hegarty’s return will be major also, just as much as Patrick Maher’s absence. Each sides most industrious forwards, with barreling runs and stitch-inducing work rate, the Tipperary half-back line will have more to consider while Limerick’s jobs will be made slightly less stressful. The switches at wing forward could materalise into a flip in fortunes for both counties, especially if Maher’s replacement – likely to be Dan McCormack, who did really well when sprung from the bench in Thurles – can’t replicate his impact.
For Limerick to flip the Thurles result, they’ll also need to flip the work rate they offered in that game. Tipperary put their rivals in a pressure cooker, shoving them into errors and mistakes that we’ve not associated with Limerick under Kiely. Indeed, Limerick are usually the ones applying the pressure, with their work hardy half-forward line squeezing the middle and allowing their half-back line to hoover up a huge amount of ball.
As for Tipperary, they’re operating on a very high level right now which will be very difficult to knock. If Limerick can upset their attacking movement and force them into errors in midfield and wing back, it will be a hugely interesting game. Limerick will need to tie a rope around Noel McGrath, likely followed by William O’Donoghue, and hope Cian Lynch sparks into his 2018 form.
But the scoring attackers are key, and although Maher is a loss from a work rate and endeavor point of view, keeping the scoring rate up will go a long way to delivering Tipperary Munster glory. Each player has had their turn in the spotlight, with the scary proposition that they might have yet to click as a complete unit. If they do, Limerick’s defence might not have an answer.
With the dials turned up to volume, this should be a cracker. Gaelic Grounds is a thermal environment at the best times, not least when Limerick are flying as they have been the past year, and with sunshine and bright skies forecast it has all the ingredients to go down as a classic. What’s for certain is both sides will care a great deal about the result, and the winner will step out from the caveats and ifs and buts and lay their mantle as the number one contender for All-Ireland glory.
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