When I was with the Limerick underage academy, and the Limerick minors, my boss Joe McKenna had a couple of hard and fast rules, one of which was very simple — never play Cork in a challenge game.
We could play every other team under the sun, and the moon; if we could have got a run out against Barcelona, Joe would have organised it. But Cork? No way. Not for love nor money.
I queried him on it a few times and I always got the same answer, which was basically no answer. “Nah, no way, not that crowd.”
Maybe it was the paranoia of history and tradition but Joe nearly always felt that Cork were so cute that they’d learn more from the game than we would. In any case, Joe didn’t want to give Cork any more of an advantage than they already had over Limerick, with their size. And tradition.
Joe’s work with the academy has played a part because the tradition has certainly changed now. Most of these Limerick players never lost to Cork at minor or under-21. One of our greatest wins with the minors was in 2015, when we scalped a red-hot Cork team in the semi-final. The U21s beat Cork in Munster finals in 2011 and 2017, while they gave Cork a right trimming in the quarter-final below in Páirc Uí Rinn in 2016.
This Limerick team have no fear of Cork. And they have every right not to. They are the boys with the All-Ireland U21 medals. This is a serious group, going in the right direction. They have youth, pace, power, mobility. And as we saw the last day against Tipperary, scoring forwards. Cork may have more marquee forwards but do they have a better overall package than Limerick?
Cork will still look to go after them with their key strengths. Full-back is still an issue for Limerick so I’m sure Seamie Harnedy will pitch up at the edge of the square. Limerick have options with Seamus Hickey, Mikey Casey, and Richie McCarthy but I’d give Richie English a shot at it. He may be a more natural corner-back but Richie had a good track record there at underage.
Cork will look to use their pace in the half-forward line against that half-back line.
Declan Hannon had a really good game at number 6 against Tipp but I still think Kyle Hayes is a more natural centre-back.
Kyle has serious pace. It’s understandable why managements don’t always put young fellas into pivotal roles early in their careers but the way hurling is gone, it makes no difference now whether you’re corner or full-back. And if that young fella is good enough, you can have your full or centre-back position sorted for a decade.
Clare threw Seanie McMahon in there at 21 and look how he turned out? I played full-back and Brian Lohan was corner-back in the 1993 Munster final.
Brian was a far better number 3 than me but by the following season, Brian was fully ready to claim the position and lock it down for another 13 years.
Limerick still have a few headaches to sort out but John Meyler will be doing some head-scratching too this week. Cork were superb last week for 35 minutes but the second half was a fair wipeout. Only for Anthony Nash’s incredible save late on, they’d have lost the game.
Tipp had to summon something deep inside to extricate themselves from potential elimination but Meyler will still know that there were too many situations when Tipp and Cork men were going for the ball in the second half and the Tipp guy was saying to himself, ‘I’m going to win this’.
Maybe Cork mentally switched off after being so far ahead in the first half but they will need to be fully tuned in for this battle.
This is tricky territory for Cork now with their third game in 13 days. Limerick, on the other hand, have had a week off and are coming in fresh and full of confidence after their opening round win. And I fancy Limerick for those reasons.
This weekend is stacked again with another huge roster of big games but the
biggest of them all, in my mind, is in Wexford Park this evening.
Both teams were impressive last weekend but it’s still difficult to know where Wexford are fully at, considering how poor Offaly were. Yeah, they racked up a huge score but they’re meeting a completely different animal now, one which limited Kilkenny to only a handful of scoring chances from play. When was the last time that happened to
There is great method in what Wexford are doing now, in how they are playing, and in how comfortable they are in doing so. But this is the biggest stress test yet. Davy Fitz will have his players wired to the moon, especially in front of a passionate home crowd, but he will be really excited too by the measurement this test will provide.
Galway are bubbling along nicely, and look set to make another big splash. You could see last weekend that the old Kilkenny demons were lurking inside their heads for three-quarters of the game but when they began to loosen up and find their range, they blew those demons — and Kilkenny — back into Galway Bay.
Even as All-Ireland champions, what will crossing that Kilkenny threshold have done for their confidence?
Apart from their class and scoring potential, the most impressive aspect about Galway now is their size and power. It’s not just size either, it’s flexible power. All their forwards are class hurlers, big men who are instantly interchangeable, at any stage of the game. They won’t be unduly worried about Wexford’s system because Wexford’s defenders will have to focus more on tracking these guys all over the field.
Wexford’s defenders have the licence to get forward. Simon Donohue came up from corner-back last week to set up one of the goals but can Donohue really be that adventurous this evening with big men behind him, all of which can instantly become a live threat with one long ball launched from deep?
Both managements will have done their homework and there will still be a fair bit of chess played with all the movement of the different pieces around the chess board. It will be cagey but it will still be fascinating as both teams look to blow the other pieces off the chessboard. It could end up as a double checkmate, and a draw.
The general belief this week amongst all hurling people is that Waterford’s season is already done. I saw Paddy Joe Ryan say in these pages on Wednesday that the new championship system was a joke. I can understand his frustration with Waterford having to play four games in 21 days but did Waterford really need that negativity with their backs pressed so tightly to the wall this week?
The system is what it is and Waterford just need to try and deal with the challenges it has presented them with. It can’t be easy for Derek McGrath because if you were to pick his top players, all of them are either injured, suspended, or doubtful with injuries.
It’s now that the Walsh Park factor is really being felt too. If they had a home game tomorrow, the crowd could really get behind the team and lift a group that is in dire need of something. Derek has been a superb manager. He has done an incredible job but this is the ultimate test. If he can steer the group through this quicksand, it will be his greatest achievement yet.
When you’re going into these battles as a manager, you always want your players to either go home with their shield, or go home on it. But Waterford are so depleted now, will they even have a shield after tomorrow’s scrap with Tipp? That would be terribly sad for Waterford, considering how many battles Derek and this group have won. And given that this is absolute do-or-die for Tipp as well, I can’t see any other result than a Tipp win.
It’s the same in Parnell Park tomorrow. Offaly look on the floor. Dublin’s form line has been far better but they have had a week off so they should be pumped and primed for what is the biggest game of the year for both counties.
If Offaly do lose, it will be a sobering experience; gone out of the championship before June has even warmed up; and relegated to the Joe McDonagh Cup. Maybe Paddy Joe has a point. The system is great but it is a little crazy. And it needs a lot of tweaks at the end of this season.
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