THERE are times when you go into a big game as manager knowing the gun is to your head, when you can almost feel the cold steel pressed against your temple.
This evening in Thurles, Davy Fitzgerald, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and TJ Ryan will know what I’m talking about, while Ger Cunningham knows there are some snipers with their rifles pointed in his direction too.
It’s more than feeling you’ve a target on your back; it’s a sense of the discomfort and unease that a defeat might bring.
What it brings before the game even starts is pressure that you want to insulate the players from. In Cork this week, there will have been talk that this might be the end of the line for JBM if Cork lose, but Jimmy will be trying everything to avoid that becoming a distraction. For Davy Fitzgerald, all he will be focussing on is trying to get the absolute maximum out of a group that look set to take off.
Clare look in a good position. They played well last week. They have all their big shooters back. Cork got a big result against Wexford, in a game where there was big pressure on them, but going 21 minutes without a score is a concern that has to be addressed. Put it another way; with the forwards Clare have, could you see them going that long without raising a flag?
Clare appear to have settled better. Since losing to Limerick on May 24, they’ve also had more time to regroup. Darach Honan and Conor McGrath have returned from injury, Brendan Bugler and Pat Donnellan are back from suspension and there is a real sense in Clare that one big victory is all this group needs to ignite in a blaze.
Cork will need their forwards to fire, especially Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane, and Pat Horgan, but even if they do, can Cork match the type of scoreline Clare are capable of racking up? A lot will depend on Cork’s defence but I can’t see them holding out against this Clare attack.
In the curtain-raiser, both Limerick and Dublin are still not sure where they are. TJ made some big calls against Westmeath by dropping big names. He was clearly looking for a response and he appears to have got it from Declan Hannon and Seamus Hickey. Dublin have also shaken up their team since the Galway defeat but the nature of the changes are as much to do with structure and formation as with personnel.
I see Dublin starting with Mark Schutte and Conal Keaney in a two-man full-forward line, with Paul Ryan drifting further out the field to create space inside. That will allow Danny Sutcliffe to go back deeper which will facilitate Liam Rushe to sweep in front of the full-back line. Eamonn Dillon also gives the forward line more pace.
The final scoreline against Tipperary wasn’t a true reflection of how Limerick played but I still thought they were caught up in an identity crisis that day. They changed their gamplan for Clare and they still seemed locked into that mindset against Tipp.
I thought TJ should have altered their system and allowed Limerick to play more open, to attack and tear into the opposition the way Limerick have traditionally played. They never expressed themselves but I can see them cutting loose this evening.
Ger and Dublin are also going into this match under the cloud of some controversy with Mikey Carton having walked off the panel during the week. It wouldn’t be like Mikey to walk away but he was clearly frustrated by his lack of game-time all year, most of which was at full-back, a position he isn’t that comfortable at.
Mikey would have always seen himself as a wing-back but he is also the type of guy who wouldn’t hang around and have a long face on him for the week if he thought he wasn’t in the management’s plans. If his demeanour wasn’t going to be 100%, he would have no interest in being around, no matter where he felt the team was going.
I think there will be goals in this game this evening because there have been question marks around both defences. And I just think that Limerick might get enough green flags to win.
I seem to be talking so much about pressure that I could open a tyre factory but there is also big pressure on Eamon O’Shea tomorrow for different reasons. Tipp have still to win a significant trophy under him. They’ve repeatedly come up short. Tipp are at home. Ever since Eamon announced that he was going at the end of this year, I think the Tipp public have been expecting a good send off. Starting tomorrow.
Looking back on the league semi-final now, Tipp will feel they got a right good look at the Waterford system but you could have said the same for Cork after the league final and Waterford still came up with something different. If they really put it up to Tipp again like they did to Cork, they will beat them.
One of the biggest dangers for Waterford is the hype getting to them, but it hasn’t infiltrated their camp yet. They have answered every question thrown at them but the loss of Pauric Mahony could be felt far more acutely now than it was against Cork. Cork played for 25 minutes and then collapsed. That won’t happen Tipp.
Waterford will need goals to win but getting goals requires them to play on the edge a little, which is a risky business against Tipp. Tipp will be conscious of that too and I don’t see them getting dragged too far up the field.
They’ll be happy to score from distance. I also see them withdrawing ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and leaving Seamus Callanan and ‘Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher inside. They’ll look to run at Waterford’s inside line but they’ll also look to hold it up until the runners come from deep for the offloads. If Tipp get that game going, it’s going to take everything Waterford’s defensive system has to be able to hold out.
Waterford still won’t worry too much about Tipp. They’ll focus on getting their own setup right and getting a performance. They defied everyone all year and they have a great chance but Tipp should still be too defiant themselves to allow anything other than a home victory.
Now, anyone need a puncture repaired?
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