There’s nothing to match the magic of Munster final day

Yesterday in Thurles was my first time involved in a Munster final since I captained Clare in the 1999 decider against Cork.

There’s nothing to match the magic of Munster final day

I had a green and white top on my back as coach to the Limerick minors. We suffered a narrow and disappointing loss but the buzz of Munster final day still surged through my veins like a narcotic.

We all had long faces as we sat down for the senior match but the mood began to lighten as the Moycarkey-Borris pipe band began to tune up for the parade. I was sitting beside Joe McKenna. ‘Joe, we’ll be dead long enough,’ I said to him, ‘but they can never take this off us. It’s some magic moment’.

Joe slapped me on the thigh. ‘By Jeez, you’re right there, Dalo,’ he replied.

It’s just a magic day all round. The place was hopping. The crowd was electric. The game wasn’t brilliant but it was still a classic game of the modern era.

Sitting right behind the Waterford dugout, I had a good opportunity to study their system. There’s nothing magic to it, in terms of rotating sweepers but they just have a very good guy to play that role in Tadgh de Burca.

With Colin Dunford and Kevin Moran coming so deep, Waterford’s workrate in that sector is massive, with ‘Brick’ Walsh and Maurice Shanahan the only real outlets they had up front. Fair play to Tipperary, they looked at that set-up and decided to stick to their guns with their own sweeper in Paudie Maher.

They knew it probably wouldn’t be a big scoring day for Seamie Callanan and his crew up front but they kept chipping away until they eventually knocked Waterford’s foundations down.

There were a couple of occasions late on when Callanan was back around his own half-back line making tackles but that’s the type of effort that’s required to break down Waterford’s game. A lot of Tipp’s big shooters weren’t allowed fire but Tipp still restricted Waterford to 0-16. Waterford were always going to need at least a goal but the system they play limits those possibilities and Tipp were just content to grind it out and pick them off when they could.

This was a huge win for Tipp and especially for Eamon O’Shea. Declan Ryan and Tommy Dunne won two Munster titles in 2011 and 2012 that were probably never fully appreciated. They only ever want one cup in Tipperary but after the last few years, this was a really sweet success that Tipp will hope to use as a platform now for September.

It was also a really good weekend for Dublin and Cork. In fairness to Cork, they showed in Wexford Park last weekend that they were willing to change their game and those alterations were clearly obvious again on Saturday night. They went with two up front and provided huge stability at the back with good shape throughout. That was the type of structure Cork needed to beat Clare and road-testing it in Wexford Park was ideal.

Cork’s experience and innate confidence was also really evident. When Clare had momentum at a key stage of the second half, Cork didn’t panic. They worked it out really well. Their half-back line was superb. Brian Murphy did a great job even though he was under a lot of pressure at times.

Bill Cooper was outstanding and in Seamus Harnedy, Cork have a real target man who will always go for the absolute dirty ball and create the openings for others. And when Cork needed something big late on, Patrick Horgan came up with the scores.

It’s been a long time since I saw a game with such tension. That was evident in some of the wides from both sides. Both teams were crippled by a fear of losing but Cork just stuck it out better.

Some of the players I had questioned had huge games, especially Aidan Walsh, who got the best of John Conlon. That was a big factor because goalkeeper Pa Kelly didn’t have an outlet option when he went long on his puck-out.

Clare were forced to bring Conlon back on to try and win possession late on but you’d have to wonder, where has Peter Duggan gone? Bobby Duggan is another ball-winner but Clare had nobody to aim long ball at when they were desperately trying to get their hands on possession late on.

This is a huge setback for Clare. The team probably trained harder than anyone else but maybe it’s time to step back now and lighten up the whole show. There is ferocious pressure to win but playing with more freedom would suit these Clare players better. This management have proven themselves but the shackles have got to be taken off the players. The tactical jacket must be loosened.

The players have to be allowed to express themselves more, to really go for it. Having won four All-Ireland U21 titles in six years, and the 2013 senior title, Clare should be doing better. I know it’s a different level but those players were noted for getting goals at U21 and that part of their game seems to have dried up. So has confidence and momentum.

For Limerick, Saturday was just as disappointing. I was doing the co-commentary on RTÉ and five minutes before half-time, I said to Ger Canning: ‘Do Limerick kick on now and go eight ahead and bury Dublin? Or do Dublin dig in and get it back to three or four and give themselves a real chance?’

The game was effectively decided there and then.

Liam Rushe was outstanding. Johnny McCaffrey sat deep and worked like an animal. Once they pushed Johnny forward, they got more of a grip on the game because I felt Dublin were sitting too deep. Danny Sutcliffe really stepped up while Paul Ryan was out of this world. Dublin showed their strength in depth too with David Treacy, ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan and Cian Boland.

Richie McCarthy and Seamus Hickey showed huge character after the Tipp game. They were both outstanding but one piece of U16 defending, when the two of them went up for the one ball, was hugely costly for the Dublin goal.

Limerick had great chances early on but they just didn’t go for the kill when Dublin were bleeding heavily. You have got to be ruthless at this level. You couldn’t have imagined Kilkenny or Tipp would leave Dublin in the position Limerick did. That is something these Limerick players will have to learn.

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