Reshuffled Limerick can silence doubters

GOING through the records, we have two very unusual situations tomorrow in Thurles, two games in which two teams have never beaten their opposition in championship – I’m talking about Galway and Dublin.

In eight previous meetings, Galway have never defeated Waterford, and in their four outings, Dublin have failed to overcome Limerick. Will that still be the case tomorrow evening?

We’ll start with Limerick/Dublin, since that’s the first game on the card. Before the start of the championship you’d probably have expected Limerick to be here, given their history, but Dublin are a surprise package.

Still, the Dubs are there on merit and deserve their place in an All-Ireland quarter-final. This is a big test for them though, taking on a Munster team in Thurles in championship, a Munster team well used to that stage. This year alone, Limerick have played three championship matches already in Semple Stadium, and that will have a bearing. After their first game, the draw against Waterford, and after their last game, the win Saturday over Laois (their first win in Thurles for a while), they endured huge criticism. Forget that, both games did them good and brought them along.

In contrast, you look at Dublin, and this is a new experience for them. Then you look to their management team and you see a couple of guys who are well used to the place, and have had great times there – I’m talking of course about Anthony Daly and Richard Stakelum. That will counteract Dublin’s lack of experience in Thurles to a huge degree, the boys will have them prepared as well as they can. Nevertheless, advantage Limerick here.

In running this game through my mind, one thing struck me – there’s been a lot of publicity about Dublin this year and the impression they’ve made on the championship so far, yet I still find it hard to run off more than a couple of names in my head. You have to really think about it before those names start coming to you, which suggests to me that even though they do have some very good players, they haven’t arrived yet. Tomás Brady, Stephen Hiney, John McCaffrey, Alan McCrabbe, Kevin Flynn, David Treacy, Dotsie O’Callaghan – you work your way through the team and the names start to come to you, but they need a big win on a big stage before you start to get the kind of instant recognition that even these Limerick players have earned with their run to the All-Ireland final two years ago.

TACTICALLY, Dublin have been different, something you’d expect under Daly. Against Kilkenny in the Leinster final they played an extra man back as sweeper – that’s a very negative tactic, designed to keep down the scores conceded. I don’t think Dublin should do that tomorrow – this is a game in which they have to go for the jugular, in which case it must be strict man-to-man in defence and all six forwards in their usual positions. If they believe in themselves, if they think they can now play with the big boys, they have go out and try to win this game from the start.

What about Limerick? Talking to Limerick hurling people – and I spend a lot of my time in the city – they’re very disappointed with the way the team has been heading. Their U21 side were brutal in Ennis recently, they don’t like the way things are going. I think there’s a creeping disappointment, and I’m not talking about the fair-weather fans here, I’m talking also about the diehards. The Limerick game is to play with fire, in your face, but that hasn’t been obvious this year. They always had good hurlers, but it was the Limerick spirit that made their reputation – remember, the bulk of these guys played in that All-Ireland final two years ago, and the first 10 minutes apart, played well.

Then you look to last Saturday’s win over Laois, and apart from a few players, the likes of Stephen Lucey, Brian Geary and Mark Foley in defence, James Ryan in attack, they were in big trouble. This, then, is a huge, huge game for Limerick, a game they must win if they’re to regain a lot of lost respect.

Looking through the line-up, a lot of changes, Mark O’Riordan gone to corner-back, Gavin O’Mahony to the wing, Seamus Hickey released to midfield – I like those changes. Donal O’Grady and Hickey will have a vital contribution to make, and if they can win this area, that will be a big plus. A winner here?

I know a lot of people have said that this is the big game for Dublin – I don’t agree. Next year is the big year for Dublin, this year and this game is big for Limerick, and I think that will be the difference. Limerick to win.

TO Galway and Waterford, and this is the big one as far as the neutral is concerned, this is the game all the talk is about. The amazing thing here is, if Galway reach this year’s All-Ireland semi-final they meet Tipperary, but to do so they are going to have to duplicate what Tipp have already done: they will have to beat Clare, Cork and Waterford.

We’ll start with Galway, and again – like Dublin – there has been a lot of talk about them, but again, I wonder, how much progress have they made? They’re still only at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, how much progress is that? They must go a lot further before winning plaudits here. The one thing that has impressed me is their consistency, on and off the field. On the field they have been playing as a unit, playing with massive intensity, defending aggressively from one end of the field to the other.

Typifying that effort, for me anyway, are the two wing-forwards, Aongus Callanan and Andy Smith. Two great engines on those guys, but boy do they burn some oil over the course of the 70 minutes. Ger Farragher has also now come into the picture, paired well with Kevin Hynes in the win over Cork. Which brings me to the management. While they’ve made some shrewd selectorial decisions, for the most part Galway have chosen the same players to take the field in game after game. And that’s very important, that level of consistency. Which brings me to the loss of two big defenders, Adrian Cullinane and Shane Kavanagh, wing-back and full-back respectively. What I really like about this Galway management – even though they lost Cullinane before the Cork game, there wasn’t a word of complaint, no excuses. They just picked someone else for the position, got on with the game. Same thing for Sunday; Shane Kavanagh is gone, a huge loss – remember, there has to be an understanding between the keeper and the full-back, between the full-back and those alongside him, those outside him, and Kavanagh had built up that relationship. It’s a big ask now for a new man to step into that role.

One man I haven’t mentioned – Joe Canning. Joe is due a big one from open play, tomorrow could be the day.

To Waterford, and running out of space here. Look, I’ve been saying this about Waterford for years: their major problem is that they play too much as individuals. There’s no doubting their talent as individuals – you only have to look at Eoin Murphy, Brick Walsh, Tony Browne at one end of the field, John Mullane playing brilliant hurling at the other – but they need to pull together far more, the forwards especially. If they can play as a team – which they do occasionally, to devastating effect – we’re in for a hell of a match. If they don’t, I fancy Galway.

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