All hurling people will be hoping that the Munster championship finally catches fire tomorrow. Clare and Waterford last week was almost a non-event, which begs the question — has Munster hurling gone down the pecking order? Is it beginning to slip behind Leinster? Certainly from the crowd — or the lack of one — at the game, the supporters seem to think so.
There’s no excuse for the type of hurling we saw last week, not with the weather we’re enjoying at the moment. We were brought up to believe that this is what Munster championship is all about, fine days, fine pitches, ball flying, good shoulder-to-shoulder hurling. Is all this now becoming a distant memory? I don’t think that’s going to be the case this weekend because if it is, if Limerick can’t raise themselves for one good tilt at Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds, then we really are in trouble.
I train Kilmallock and am working with three of the Limerick players. If the rest of John Allen’s panel have the same attitude as Paudie O’Brien, Gavin O’Mahony and Graeme Mulcahy, then he has a top-class bunch on his hands. Rarely have I seen anyone with the commitment — to club and county — of those three lads. They’re a dream to work with, ambitious for themselves and for their team, hard-working, dedicated, talented. They’re first-class sportsmen, a credit to the game. What they’re crying out for now though is a bit of success with the county. If their attitude is typical of the attitude that goes right through this Limerick panel, then they’re giving themselves a chance. They’re up against it though, that’s for sure.
They have a lot of experience in defence and in midfield. Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy and Tom Condon in the full-back line, Paudie O’Brien, Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’Mahony outside them, have all been around for a few years and that should stand to them. Wayne McNamara — now there’s a warrior! We know he’s going to give it everything and that’s what Limerick are going to need.
Donal O’Grady in midfield, captain and team leader, has to take charge and lead by example. The main line for Limerick though is their half-forwards — three big, strong men in David Breen, James Ryan and Seamus Hickey.
I think they’ll be trying to draw out the Tipperary half-back line, create a bit of space and get fast ball into that full-forward line which has pace in the two corners in Graeme and Seánie Tobin alongside the power in the centre of Declan Hannon.
I’ve focused on Limerick here simply because we know so much about Tipperary. The big question for Tipperary though is will they be up for this? Because a few of them weren’t in the recent league final in Kilkenny. A plus for them is the fact that John O’Brien is back while young Jason Forde is starting. Another plus, Conor O’Mahony is injury-free and back to his best form. They also seem to have found a replacement for Declan Fanning, another Killenaule man in Kieran Bergin. They’ll be tough, and because they have so much to prove to themselves and their fans after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny, I’m going for them.
In Leinster. Dublin are heading for Wexford Park and they should expect a battle. I’m not convinced about Dublin. Their weakness isn’t in their size or athleticism, it’s in their hurling, in their innate ability — it’s not enough just to be quick at this level, you also need to be slick. At times they look to me like a football team playing hurling and I say that in the full knowledge that a lot of these lads are growing up with a hurley in their hands. The problem is they’re also growing up with a football. Wexford have that problem as well, a dual player this weekend in Lee Chin — at least he’s playing the hurling first! I think too this is going to be a close game also. Wexford lost heavily to Dublin in Wexford Park in the league — this is championship and a chance for redemption. I go for Dublin, but not with any great confidence.
On Kilkenny and Offaly, I know there’s no Henry Shefflin, missing his first championship game since 1999, but the way Offaly are going at the moment, Kilkenny could take their intermediate team to Tullamore and still win.