Anthony Daly: Potent, savage Limerick already look like the team to beat

Anthony Daly: Potent, savage Limerick already look like the team to beat

When I was walking out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday evening, I noticed some action on the 4G pitch. I knew it couldn’t be some club training so soon after the match so I went over to investigate; it was 13 Tipperary substitutes going hard at it.

That’s standard practice after games now, where guys who didn’t play do some running to store up on their fitness loading, to help keep pace with the lads who have just played.

Yet the Tipp lads were doing tackling drills. That may be another way of topping up your conditioning work but the rain was just starting to come down hard. The wind was whipping up.

We often wish to have our youth back again but I turned to one lad who was having a look beside me and said: ‘I’m glad I’m not playing now.’

I don’t want to be sounding like some auld fella lamenting the old days, when we’d be wondering where we might go for a pint after matches, but there’s no end to it now for fellas.

A lot of lads who played on Saturday probably had their recovery work done early yesterday. A priority for many lads who played yesterday, especially those at work early today, is trying to fit in their recovery at some stage today.

It’s just relentless but the quality on show is matching that pursuit for the next level. In my time, February was a time for shifting some of the weight from our bellies and arses.

Now, fellas are like machines 12 months of the year. The skill, pace and physicality is increasing with each season. And the public can’t get enough of it. The Park was rocking on Saturday evening.

The Gaelic Grounds was hopping yesterday, with over 14,000 turning up on a day when you wouldn’t put a dog out.

It was another huge win for Limerick, especially in the context of how many new players they tried again. Galway experimented too, but no other team has the depth of options Limerick seem to have at their disposal at the moment. It’s still only early February but, already, Limerick look the team to beat.

They were very potent up front, creating 36 scoring chances, which was even more impressive in the conditions.

Limerick only got one goal but they could have had three. They were highly productive on their own puckout. Limerick have a lot of weapons but the source of their power is how they savage teams in the middle third. Galway are one of the few sides entitled to take on Limerick at their own game but they just wear you down around that middle, as they did to Galway yesterday.

Galway badly need Dáithí Burke back. He brings that edge to the Galway defence that they always seem to lack without him. Dáithi’s return would also — more than likely — release Gearoid McInerney back out to centre-back, whose physical presence was missed in that battle zone yesterday.

Conor Whelan took the fight to Limerick but Sean Finn still bossed the whole place, especially after Joe Canning went off injured. That’s a concern for now but it’s going to be an ongoing worry for Galway given the mileage and the physical toll on Joe’s body.

He was brilliant again yesterday but the last thing Galway need now is to be looking over their shoulder wondering when is Joe back after another injury scare.

That insecurity undermined Galway’s championship last year and, while they know Joe won’t be around forever, yesterday proved again that Galway are brittle without Joe in more ways than just relying on his genius and truckload of scores.

Galway only got 14 points and Joe had accounted for six of them before going off with 25 minutes still to play.

The weather was a factor but yesterday was all about fighting the fight, and going to war in the trenches. A team often reflects its manager and, while nobody will be getting carried away after the second round of the league, fans will certainly hope Clare continue to play in the image of Brian Lohan. As a player, Lohan was a man of heart, desire and defiance, and Clare showed all of those traits in spades.

In fairness to Davy Fitzgerald, he has to take some credit for that performance too because he instilled a lot of those values in those players when managing Clare. You can see the same traits in Wexford now, that never-say-die attitude, that desire to hunt everything down, no matter how hopeless it may seem.

Every inter-county squad is training like professionals but mindset still governs so much. Going to Wexford Park is never easy but losing a man before half-time, especially one as influential and inspirational as John Conlon, was all the more difficult again when having to play against a hurricane in the second half. When Wexford pared that deficit down to one point with 15 minutes remaining, it looked curtains for Clare, who had only scored one point in the second half by that stage. But they dug in and found a way.

It was saucy enough, which was natural considering how much had been written about this game beforehand, and particularly given the background to that discussion — the tension between Lohan and Fitzy.

Some of Wexford’s shooting was way off but Clare didn’t exactly make it easy for them either. Aidan McCarthy was excellent, while Shane O’Donnell, David Reidy and David Fitzgerald put in massive shifts. And Tony Kelly was outstanding once more. He might have only got two points from play but some of TK’s freetaking was off the charts. More impressive again was Kelly’s incessant workrate.

Having David McInerney out beside him as an anchor at midfield looks to be complementing TK at the moment. Davy Mac has struggled for consistency as a defender in recent years but a new lease of life may be what he was craving. That move will be all the more beneficial again to Clare if Patrick O’Connor and Conor Cleary — who both looked solid — can lock down the spine of that Clare defence.

Yesterday was all about getting the job done, whatever way teams could, but Saturday evening was more enthralling and entertaining for a variety of reasons. Cork and Tipperary will always prefer a shootout over a dogfight but the pristine pitch lent itself to a much purer and faster brand of hurling than anything else we saw yesterday.

When I was down pitchside with John Mullane beforehand, I asked Mullane if he thought the grass was too short. I thought that was evident from some of the sideline balls taken.

The ball was zipping around like it would in a pin-ball machine but the most pleasing aspect for Cork was how they dogged it out and toughed it out when they had to late on. They were much more aggressive in the tackle and on the deck than they had been against Waterford but Cork neatly married that ferocity with some brilliant hurling.

Alan Cadogan’s return was a huge boost. Patrick Horgan sprinkled his magic all over the second half. You could see the benefit too of Seamus Harnedy having a game under his belt from six days earlier.

Mark Coleman and particularly Darragh Fitzgibbon made big contributions when introduced but some of Cork’s lesser names stood out, especially Robbie O’Flynn and Robert Downey.

Liam Sheedy never likes losing but Tipp will be happy too. They scored 1-25 and some of their best work up front was done by Mark Kehoe and Cian Darcy. Tipp have more big names to come back than Cork but Tipp will be far stronger again if the large volume of young players they used on Saturday continue to progress at the level they are.

Those young guns will go after that chance because they know they have no other choice but to keep the foot pressed to the accelerator.

The tackling drills the Tipp subs were doing afterwards was another indication of their intent this year to try and do something Tipperary haven’t managed since the 1960s.

Every squad though, is chasing something. And it’s all governed by that pursuit for the next level.

The Dalo GAA Show: Cork's field of dreams, savage Limerick, a Banner double, big dog Quirke goes top

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