Seasoned Limerick warriors can defend their fortress

It’s funny how this whole thing works.

Seasoned Limerick warriors can defend their fortress

Tipperary are the favourites for tomorrow’s Munster Hurling semi-final. They’re fancied to win the All-Ireland. They’re reportedly going well. They have all the motivation they need, after losing to Limerick twice in the last two years.

And yet, all those factors heap more pressure on Tipp. I think this could be set up again for Limerick.

To lose three years in-a-row to an arch rival in Munster would be unthinkable for Tipperary supporters but Limerick are coming into this match in probably an even better position than they were over the last two years.

Back then, they had no championship game under their belts. Limerick didn’t set the world on fire against Clare but that game will be invaluable now.

Nobody really knows what state Tipp are in. Cathal Barrett would be tailor-made for Cian Lynch, but how fit is Barrett? ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer missed some training, Noel McGrath’s illness was another setback.

Limerick seem to have their injuries cleared up. The Gaelic Grounds will be like a cauldron. Limerick will want to turn it into a fortress.

Limerick can also attack this match with more freedom. They knew the Clare match was going to be very tactical but they still got it right and possibly should have won by more.

Limerick showed new maturity that day. They had the middle third locked down like a vice. Their axis of Paul Browne, Jim Bob Ryan and Paudie O’Brien was like a wall across the middle. That’s a fair unit to bypass because they’re three real men.

Tipp will want Brendan Maher in that battleground zone but I still think Limerick have an edge in that key sector. Given the amount of work he gets through, Jim Bob is probably the most underrated player in the country. He set the tone in Thurles last year. He’ll look to set it again tomorrow.

The main priority for Limerick is not to concede goals. Richie McCarthy hasn’t recovered his form of the last two years yet but it’s a whole different ball game if Noel McGrath or ‘Bubbles’ aren’t around to laser the ball in front of Seamus Callanan.

Seamus Hickey will also surely be better and almost always rises to Tipp in particular but I’d like to see Hickey focusing more on his basic defensive duties. I thought he was trying to be a bit more expansive against Clare. So was Tom Condon, who got a great point, but the priority against Tipp is to win your position and defend hard.

Cian Lynch looks primed to perform again in a game like this and overall, I think Limerick look more seasoned for this early in the summer. Tipp might have a better chance of winning the All-Ireland but the edge is with Limerick now. They won’t be cocky from beating Tipp over the last two years. If anything, they still feel they’ve a point to prove to validate the last two wins.

There is a real togetherness about Limerick. Tipp are being talked up but they haven’t been able to cope with Limerick in the last two years. Brian Gavin will let the game flow and Limerick will hit hard. I fancy Limerick to edge it.

Looking to Nowlan Park, it’s not ideal for Wexford with Jack Guiney being dropped off the panel for disciplinary reasons but Liam Dunne was clearly left with no choice because the group is more important than any individual, I know some of the ‘it’s only amateur’ brigade will be up in arms but my own opinion is that no one guy can jeopardise the sacrifices of 33 others over the last eight months. A hard call seemed to galvanise Laois. It might also make Wexford stronger as a unit but they’re not facing Offaly.

Taking on Kilkenny in their backyard is a far different dynamic but it reminds me a bit of the Roy Keane fiasco in Saipan. A lot of people said we might have won the World Cup if Roy had played but I felt we nearly overachieved by him not being there. Everyone gave a bit more. If every Wexford player gives that extra 1 or 2%, it could add up to be the difference.

Apart from Richie Power, the rest of the Kilkenny team will be more or less the same as last September, with the exception of Joey Holden at full-back. Yet that makes it even more interesting in the context of what Conor McDonald is capable of.

Joey Holden had a great All-Ireland club final but he marked Kieran Kenneally and a 17-year-old Paddy O’Loughlin in that game and McDonald is a completely different animal now. If McDonald smashes in a couple of goals, which he’s capable of, it could set a whole different tone to this game.

Those are the only conditions to create an upset because I just don’t think that Wexford have progressed enough from last year. I expected more from them in the league. They didn’t have a bad campaign but in the games they needed to win at home — against Limerick and Waterford — they failed.

Playing in Nowlan Park will put Kilkenny on guard even more because defeat would be doomsday scenario stuff down there. Kilkenny are coming in too under the radar. They’ve had time to get injuries right and get some more training under their belts by not making the league quarter-finals. Brian Cody will be happy with the build-up, with how Kilkenny have eased into the summer. They’ll have too much for Wexford.

This evening’s game in Tullamore is interesting for a number of reasons. Will Galway kick on now? How good are Laois? It will be a major disaster for Galway if they don’t win. Nobody knows what they will do, probably including themselves, but there seems to be more steel and spirit in the squad this year, which was really evident on both days against Dublin.

Laois won’t afford Galway the same space they were allowed against Dublin. They’ll probably set up with a sweeper but if Galway get enough ball into Joe Canning, Jason Flynn and replacement Niall Healy, the Laois system will only hold out for so long.

Galway still have other areas to sort out. Daithi Burke did well the last day on Danny Sutcliffe but he’ll have a different role this evening. He’ll probably be on more ball and will have to use it wisely against the Laois set-up.

The key to Galway this year though, is the increase in their workrate, especially in the middle third. I like Aidan Harte at midfield. Cyril Donnellan gives them real cut, Johnny Glynn is a huge ball-winner, Andy Smith has huge experience at this stage of his career. Plus Galway have real depth to their bench as well now.

It’s gas the amount of times we hear that counties are in disarray in April following league defeats. ‘Fans’ can be fair fickle, Limerick and Galway fans are back on a high after summer time victories. Defeat for Galway would spell doom again but I don’t see it happening.

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