The Premier County’s sudden reemergence as a legitimate All-Ireland contender may not come as a huge surprise given their wealth of talent on the field and intelligence in the dugout, but the means with which they’ve stormed through the Munster campaign thus far has been somewhat unexpected. Beating Cork on the opening weekend was notable given their mixed league form, but Cork seemed rusty and sluggish and reversed that form one week later against Limerick. Beating Waterford in the fashion they did was to be expected, given where the Déise currently are and that form has been backed up as the weeks go by.
But beating Clare by 13 points – in Cusack Park – a genuine All-Ireland contender many would include in their top fives, is a huge statement of intent and plops Tipperary at number one in the pecking order of teams to beat this year, even ahead of last year’s champions. Tipperary look devastating right now. They’ve unlocked their attacking combination and are scoring at will, with danger coming from all angles. This week it was John McGrath who came to the fore, with six points from play, whereas John O’Dwyer was the star of the show against Cork and Jason Forde did most of the damage against Waterford. The midfield are dominating games, with the athletically gifted Michael Breen proving to be a perfect foil to the magic touch of Noel McGrath. Tipp even look reinforced defensively, with Cathal Barrett playing stellar stuff from corner back, and Alan Flynn and the three Mahers setting a strong defensive platform.
It’s so far so good for the Premier, who have one foot back in the Munster final, as they look to reclaim a title last won in 2016. They’re playing blistering hurling right now that should they maintain it for the rest of the summer, will see them extremely hard to beat.
The Shannonsiders are back on track after a blip at home to Cork prior to the mid-way break. Waterford weren’t likely to be a stern test after two losses in a row, even with their backs against the wall, and that proved to be the case as Limerick blitzed them by 20 points. The game seemed to be even enough over the initial ten minutes or so, but Limerick eventually clicked and their deadly quick passing game came to the fore which the Déise had no match for, as Limerick sweeped forward at every opportunity at ease. It was just the type of game Limerick needed to blow away the cobwebs ahead of two massive games against Clare and Tipperary which could make or break their season.
Dropping two All Star calibre talents in Darragh O’Donovan and Diarmaid Bynres is the type of cold-blooded nerve you’d expect to find in Brian Cody, but not many other managers around the country. He may be an All-Ireland winning coach, but Kiely certainly left himself open to criticism should these moves have back-fired. Instead, the new entrants of William O’Donoghue in midfield and Paddy O’Loughlin, who had a fine league campaign, did the trick and both performed well, showing Limerick’s unimaginable strength in depth as they sprung the likes of O’Donovan and Shane Dowling from the bench. The cherry for Kiely? O’Donovan came on and played out of skin, likely earning himself a return to the starting panel next weekend.
The Dubs picked up their first win of the campaign, soundly beating Carlow on a 2-22 to 1-13 scoreline. They now await Galway in Parnell Park in a game which will define but theirs and the Tribesmen’s seasons.
After drawing last week, Kildare picked up their socks and demolished Longford 1-18 to 10 points in Tullamore. After last week’s thrilling 3-15 to 1-21 extra-time encounter, the Lilywhites wanted no such repeats and were delivered big performances from their array of forwards. The Dubs now await Kildare in the semi-final. The odds are stacked against Kildare, and a win here would be seismic in Leinster, but the gulf in class may be too large to bridge so soon.
A dismal league campaign attracted a lot of justified criticism, but yet again have qualified for a Munster final against old foes Kerry. The romanticists gave the Shannonsiders a chance after shocking Tipperary – but the Rebels were having none of it. They obliterated Limerick, 3-18 to 0-06, and await Kerry in Páirc Uí Chaiomh in a few weeks time. Like Kildare, a win here would be seismic – but terribly unlikely.
As the hurling shifts to large margin defeats, the football is ticking along under the radar as a fiercely tight and competitive contest, particular in Ulster. Armagh and Cavan played out a 1-14 to 17-point draw at the weekend. The Orchard County needed extra time to get the better of Down, while Cavan defeated the mighty Monaghan in the early rounds. In the other side of the draw, Donegal and Tyrone will go to blows to identify one Ulster finalist. Ulster is where the action is right now, unfortunately the TV Gods wouldn’t have you believe it.
Clare’s loss to Tipperary was the type of loss that would be closely followed with the “this will set them back” line. It may not have that much of an affect, but it really doesn’t bode well for the Banner going forward. They were beaten in all facets of the game, their star players were marked out of having any impact, and when they did get on the ball the decision making and execution left a lot to be desired. Next week’s tie with Limerick will either reinvigorate their campaign or likely send them through the back door, giving them a chance to regroup as Limerick did so effectively last year. But in contrast to Limerick, Clare may not have the belief in themselves that elevated the Shannonsiders to All-Ireland glory.
The Déise’s year is over after a trouncing from Limerick. The pre-season narrative was positive, having reached the league final and shown glimpses of class throughout life in Division 2. But their year ends with a whimper and question marks over Pairic Fanning’s future in charge and the dedication of some of the senior panel members. The Waterford Board may need to hit a total refresh button this summer, now that they’ve failed to escape the Munster boundaries for the second year in a row.
In 2018, only Tipperary (against Clare in round 4) and Waterford (against Cork in round 5) were the only sides to suffer defeat on home turf. So far this year, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Clare have all lost with the so-called home advantage.
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