Limerick’s strengths are based on ball retention and clever transition from defence through good positioning and support running. Nickie Quaid’s puckouts are a strong starting point. He goes short at times but mixes it up and many of his restarts are delivered to precise landing areas on his half-forward line.
In their run to All-Ireland success last season, Quaid had a 70% retention rate. This is very impressive as a 50% retention rate is healthy. Two weeks ago, Tipp laid the platform for victory in the first half — their superior sharpness being a factor — as they disrupted the transition from Treaty’s short puckouts.
Although Limerick had an overall retention rate on their own puckouts of 63% in the first period, only two from eight were won on their half-forward line. Tipp half-backs are strong under the ball and I’m expecting a tweak in the Limerick puckout strategy to this sector.
Curbing the influence of Tipp’s centre-back Pádraic Maher will be high on Limerick’s agenda. If they can bottle him up, prevent him from breaking forward, and force him to offload or strike under pressure, massive psychological and on-field benefits will accrue for the men in green.
This process can begin at restarts. If Kyle Hayes positions himself centrally, 30m from the Tipp goal rather than on the 45/50m out, Maher will be forced to mark him and police his runs. It would be too dangerous to allow Hayes any degree of freedom this close to Tipp’s goal. There will be landing space in front of Hayes, enabling Quaid to set him up with possession.
Midfielder Cian Lynch is adept at timing his runs forward. Accurate, quick offloads by Hayes to Lynch or Gearóid Hegarty, coming on the loop from the wing, would see the runners bypass the extremely influential Tipp centre-back. This tactic could set up goal chances for the speedy Graeme Mulcahy and Aaron Gillane inside.
Hegarty and Tom Morrissey would position themselves on the Tipp 45, some 20m in from touch for Quaid’s restarts. This would create landing zones for puckouts in front of both. The wing-forwards would break quickly towards the landing zones near the sidelines to gather the restarts or alternatively Hegarty would move across into the centre forward space vacated by Hayes. Offloading to midfielders or half-backs on support runs would create scoring opportunities.
I would have Cian Lynch, Hegarty, and Hayes running at the centre of the Tipp defence in search of goals rather than overrely on the ball to the right corner for Aaron Gillane. Playing Hayes closer to the Tipp goal as an orthodox centre-forward would fully occupy Pádraic Maher. I’d introduce Pat Ryan from the bench early in the second half as his pace can trouble defenders. All attacks would initially probe for goals with efforts for points only as a last resort.
Tipp’s attack is gold standard. Before the season started, the defence was rated bronze at best. Placing Brendan Maher at wing-back and Cathal Barrett in the corner improved matters considerably. Barrett, though still not at his 2016 level, brought a solidity to the full-back line. Whether he starts tomorrow or not, Limerick will suspect he can’t be fully right, and that the Tipp inside line is ripe for exploitation. Dan McCormack, a worker rather than scorer, will come in for Patrick Maher. However, ‘Bonner’ is irreplaceable. And having to replace two starters limits Tipp’s options off the bench. Late in the game, the sideline can be a lonely place for a manager as he surveys the replacement bench and feels a little like Old Mother Hubbard.
The Premier won’t have it as easy as two weeks ago. Limerick will be fired up, constantly using ‘prohibited’ free-arm and swarm tackling on their opponents. Quietening the Limerick support by getting on top early is a must for the Premier. Tipp haven’t had to come from behind in the championship yet and didn’t succeed in coming from behind against Dublin in the league. And Limerick’s system works much better when they are in front.
Diarmaid Byrnes and Dan Morrissey are not out-and-out man-markers. They police their zones with zeal and funnel back towards the ‘D’ if danger threatens. They get help from their wing-forwards and both Limerick midfielders clog the central channel in anticipation of deliveries inside.
Tipp can exploit the vacated space in the wing-back zones by using short stick passes to their wing forwards from central midfield. This can buy time for Jason Forde and Dan McCormack, who would then have options. They can shoot, run at their defender or deliver a diagonal ball to the inside attack.
Forde is an accomplished striker of points from distance and although McCormack can score, his role would be to run at the defence and offload to Michael Breen or Noel McGrath coming from behind the play. Or to John O’Dwyer who would move to the wings and loop back to the centre as the play developed.
Limerick’s half-forwards funnel back to prevent these situations. However, the three Mahers in Tipp’s half-back line are well capable of scoring from midfield. If these three can make forward runs onto passes backwards from Forde and McCormack, they should have space to shoot or send advantageous diagonal deliveries inside.
If Tipp could score early points from this tactic, or create goal chances inside, it will force the Limerick half-backs to hold their positions outside rather than covering back. This, in turn, opens space for Tipp’s main hitmen, Seamie Callanan and John McGrath.
The Premier don’t deviate much from a 15 v 15 set-up. Their work-rate has been impressive. However, defensive gaps appeared in the last 15 minutes a fortnight ago and only a last-ditch hook on Conor Boylan by Noel McGrath prevented a goal.
If Tipp get in front, they must fight to stay there. Placing Michael Breen on Kyle Hayes, with Pádraic Maher as a free defender in times of Limerick dominance could cut the Treaty scoring rate. If Limerick are chasing, Tipp may withdraw forwards into the middle third to modify their set-up to counter-attack.
Dan McCormack could go to midfield and a two-man full-forward line would keep the three Limerick full-backs in situ. Callanan and John McGrath are just too dangerous to leave one on one. This should be tight. As always, ref’s calls play a part. Favour with 50/50 decisions can be crucial. Lets hope style and creativity carries the day.