I saw a great quote from Limerick goalkeeper and captain Nickie Quaid during the week. “In Limerick, things are never as good as they’re made out to be,” he said. “And they’re never as bad as they’re made out to be either.”
From working in Limerick with their underage hurling academy, and coaching the minor hurlers, I thought Nickie nailed it. I’ve seen up close how the mentality and the mood oscillates so wildly. After we beat Cork in a Munster minor semi-final last summer, there was a pitch invasion that you wouldn’t see after an All-Ireland.
The whole place was down in the dumps when we lost to Tipp in the Munster final ten days later. I suppose when die-hard supporters are craving success that badly, results make mood swings so pronounced.
After they lost badly to Waterford in the second half of the league semi-final, the place was like a scene out of Angela’s Ashes.
All it was missing was the floods of rain. I think we got that bad weather around the end of April so the negative stories going around the county were like reliving Frank McCourt’s impoverished childhood. As TJ Ryan said, the vultures were out.
The sweeper system which collapsed so spectacularly the same day added to the gloom. Playing that containment game didn’t seem to sit well with Limerick’s identity. I know from my own playing days that when Limerick roll up their sleeves and go at you, they’re a serious animal. They don’t hold back. It’s not in their nature to want, or need, to hold back, they hurl in waves.
The way hurling has changed has probably affected Limerick and Cork more than Clare, Waterford, and Tipperary. Clare and Waterford’s underage players have grown up in that culture but it’s hard to impose a new order in a county that doesn’t seem comfortable with that radical culture change. I’m not saying Limerick don’t do tactics, strategies, and gameplans. They do (we saw that with the U21s last year). They just do them better the Limerick way.
I don’t think Limerick will play a sweeper today and I think it will suit them better if they don’t. This represents a great opportunity for them to take Tipp on man for man. That might seem incredulous to counties like Clare and Waterford, but Limerick are not Clare or Waterford and the sooner that’s grasped, the better they will be.
Given their lack of experience, playing Dan Morrissey and Richie English in the full-back line may seem a risk but you have to give fellas a go too. Richie was involved with us with the minors last year as a hurley carrier and he seems like a great fella. I watched him closely with the U21s and there is a great cut about him. He didn’t seem like a guy who would be affected by mistakes. I know John McGrath gave him plenty of headaches in the Fitzgibbon Cup final but that goes back to my point in just having faith in fellas. Anyway, what happened in February often has zero relevance to what will happen in June.
How did the rest of us learn? We all got our scaldings as young players. We just got up the next day and were that bit stronger.
TJ and his management are taking a chance by going with so many of last year’s U21 team but I think it is the way forward. The general feeling in Limerick is that they are good lads. I’m not casting any aspersions on the players from the three in-a-row All-Ireland U21-winning teams of 2000-2 but, by all accounts, these lads seem more grounded and level-headed.
I do think Limerick have a great future. I see myself first hand what talent is in county and the time and work in terms of coaching the genuine people on the ground are willing to put in. They could dominate the U21 championship for the next few years but the county need to be patient too.
They have to avoid the reflex action, ignore the snipers, and not go all negative and start calling for heads if they don’t win today.
Tipperary are entitled to be favourites but it’s difficult to know how good they really are because Cork were so atrocious. Cork didn’t seem to have a clue how to operate their sweeper but I still thought there was a lot of sharpness on show from Tipp in how they exploited, and ruthlessly punished, that Cork vulnerability.
Despite Cork being as bad as they were, it was still Cork — and Tipp have rarely taken them out as clinically as they did four weeks ago. Seamus Callanan and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer were lethal, especially in the first half, while I think Tipp have unearthed a gem in John McGrath.
Michael Ryan made some big calls, and showed good management, in going for Sean Curran and Dan McCormack the last day to shake up the forward line. The make-up of that attack may be slightly different today but I’m sure the competition for places in the team must have been savage over the last month.
Tipp just have that edge in experience and class up front. They also look compact and steady at the back. Ronan and Padraic Maher are playing well but you’d love to see Limerick push up and have a go at James Barry.
Limerick need to trust these young fellas enough to take on Tipp in Thurles. I hope TJ is saying to Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey, ‘Open up and cut loose.’ If I was TJ, that’s the way I’d go. Lynch is the type of young player who can light up the Munster championship on hard ground in Thurles.
As a former manager once said, ‘Another bullet isn’t going to kill me anyway.’ If Limerick do have a cut, I think the Limerick public will at least be happy that their team are going at it the way they want them to play, and which they expect to see of Limerick hurlers.
That may still not be enough but the same public have to understand, too, just how young this team is, and that patience is required. No supporter likes to see that word ‘patience’ but that is just reality in counties like Limerick. You can’t just expect Barry Nash and Gearoid Hegarty to come in and just burn all around them in their first season. You will only see the best of him and some of these other young lads down the line.
Of all the teams I saw during the league, I was impressed with Tipp the most. I think they have more firepower than anyone else. They are my fancy for the All-Ireland. And I think they will win today.
After all the scandalous abuse Eamonn Kelly got after losing to Westmeath, that result didn’t turn out too bad for him in how they avoided Galway in the quarter-final. They may be facing Galway now in the semi-final but at least Offaly have momentum and confidence behind them now after such an impressive win against Laois. Winning three successive games also grants Offaly a bit more freedom now in that they can have a real cut at this but I can’t see them beating Galway.
When Micheal Donoghue looked at the draw at the start of the year, it gave him a great chance to plan for the summer. Even though they were relegated, they had three months to effectively prepare for a Leinster final. That timespan also gave them the opportunity to get a long injury list sorted out. They appear to have everyone back now. I still think the loss of Johnny Glynn will hurt Galway before the year is out but they will surely be in a Leinster final by today evening.
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