The Premier’s total ascendancy in the final 15 minutes against Limerick last year was down to their supremacy across their half back line. Limerick will have to make this area the main battleground tomorrow directly opposing Tipperary’s main source of attack. David Breen is tall, physically strong and quick. If he chips in with a few scores it will be a bonus but his primary role should be to negate the strengths of Pádraic Maher.
Maher is strong under puck outs, as is Breen and coming onto possession the Tipp wing back likes to drive upfield. Breen and his half line colleagues need to bring a controlled disciplined fury to their play denying Maher, Conor O’Mahony and Kieran Bergin possession from puck outs. Succeeding in this provides a significant psychological advantage.
A major constituent in the groundwork needed for victory will be laid down if Breen, James Ryan and Seamus Hickey can win possession from 50/50 contests or break ball for their midfielders. Ryan brings a huge work rate to centre forward and spends a lot of time drifting to midfield and to the wings. It is difficult to contain a roving 11, particularly if his defence is on top. Hickey on the left is mobile with a high work rate and needs to supply the inside line regularly. The home side will attempt diagonal deliveries into their speedy inside line of Graeme Mulcahy and Sean Tobin. They can do damage by picking up breaks from tall full forward Declan Hannon or directly if they get quality ball, and it’s the quality of delivery that usually makes the difference.
I came away from the League final with the view that Tipperary were holding something back that day. If that’s true it will be revealed tomorrow. They cannot afford to leave anything in the tank in this tricky assignment as Limerick are always very confident playing their neighbours. Last year Tipp’s forward tactics early on created bunching in attack allowing the Limerick defence to play as a unit. The Premier attackers attempted to go straight through the middle of a compact defence, inevitably losing possession which boosted the confidence of opposing defenders.
Tipp’s tactics have to involve the isolation of defenders by setting up “one on ones” and turning them by direct running. Putting Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath and “Bonner” Maher in possession and having them run directly at the Limerick defence is key. It is very difficult for defenders to stop attackers legitimately when they have a metre or two of space and run straight with determination. Limerick’s full backline is not the tallest and it can be vulnerable to high deliveries. Tipp’s bench will come into play with big Brian O’Meara or Pa Bourke dangerous under the high ball while Eoin Kelly is bound to be used as an impact sub. The Blue and Gold should expect a warm reception on the Ennis Road tomorrow and plans should be in place to counteract the expected whirlwind opening Limerick will hope to achieve. Disciplined defending in numbers with forwards tracking back and slowing down proceedings is the best way to achieve this.
Tipperary were sloppy in defence last year. They weren’t ready for the intensity of the battle but they survived. Lightening won’t strike twice.
History will be made for the wrong reasons this weekend with Henry Shefflin missing his first Leinster senior championship game. But his absences will provide a “cause” for Kilkenny. They are favourites, justifiably so. But they are well aware anything which increases motivation is important as his side seeks three in a row. Having dragged the team almost single-handedly back into contention against Galway in the first final last year, every panellist will be well aware that victory in 2012 was owed to Shefflin. The players will want to repay this debt by getting to the final for his 10th medal. This will be a huge intrinsic motivating factor. Kilkenny would have been wary of the Faithful challenge in the two decades from 1980 onwards but Offaly have slipped since. The scoring burden falls squarely on the shoulders of Shane Dooley. The Noreside defenders are well aware that policing him closely, denying him chances from play and frees will make their task easier. An injury doubt surrounds midfield powerhouse Michael Fennelly but the Cats possess enough alternatives through Michael Rice and Lester Ryan to hold sway in this sector. Kilkenny’s riches are up front and with TJ Reid back in the frame it will prove a tough day for the home defence in Tullamore.
Meanwhile, this evening Dublin face an onerous task in Wexford Park. A lot has been invested in Dublin hurling over the years and they need a victory to ward off questions regarding the investment. Wexford will seek to make things tough and tight.