DONAL O'GRADY: Poor tactics not fitness issues cost Limerick

Limerick’s team and management will receive some well deserved kudos for their display in putting it up to Tipp in Sunday’s Munster Championship, but as the days go on they will reflect on an opportunity lost.

Tipp were there for the taking. If the Premier men have ambitions of success in September they will have to improve their support play immeasurably but they deserve credit for getting over the line in the end. On this display, Limerick will cruise through the early backdoor games.

If they can refine some of their tactical play and keep up the hunger levels they will be a force to be reckoned with at the quarter-final stage. Limerick were sharp in the opening half, a hunger for work epitomised by the effective all-action display of James Ryan at midfield, some clever points and off the ball running by Tobin and Mulcahy up front.

The full-back line of Richie McCarthy, Stephen Walsh and Tom Condon covered quickly once danger threatened, blocking down and harrying their opponents with a tight defensive display. On the other hand Tipp were sloppy, giving away cheap fouls, three missed frees, some poor wides, poor support play and poor marking for the Limerick goal and generally not up to speed for championship hurling.

The Tipp forwards inter-changed regularly, but at times it looked as if they were not sure as to its purpose as they condensed the play in front of goal.

It may have been more to their advantage to play conventional positions, feeding ball into Brian O’Meara at the edge of the square and forcing one-on-ones with defenders.

With 20 minutes gone Limerick had converted seven from eight chances while Tipp’s conversion stat read four from nine. Pa Bourke’s well-taken goal for Tipp midway through the first half ensured virtual parity at half-time.

It was the heroic work-rate from one to 15 that pushed the Shannonsiders into a seven-point lead in the second half as Tipp struggled badly in the first quarter after the break.

There were a lot of questions regarding Limerick’s fitness before this game because of the manner in which they lost to Clare in the league final. Their defeat to Tipp was similar in that they allowed a good lead to be overturned with 15 minutes left, blowing an excellent chance..

But fitness wasn’t the problem on Sunday. It was the tactics employed by Limerick that cost them the game. One squeezes the opposition by retaining the ball and one seldom gets tired when in possession.

I wrote on Saturday about the importance of puck-outs and when Limerick review the game they will see their puck-out strategy and ball use from defence allowed the Tipp half-back line primarily, but their defence as a whole to dominate for the last 15 minutes racking up 1-10 to Limerick’s 0-3.

Limerick’s defence can be proud of their efforts all through but it was old fashioned full-forward play that undid them in the 65th minute. A high ball towards the square was knocked down by Brian O’Meara. Sizing up the situation he then moved across the square smartly anticipating the breaking ball from Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and reacted quickly — reminiscent of a goal scored by the late Roger Ryan for Tipp against Kilkenny in the 1971 final — flicking to the net in a flash.

Limerick only won four of 17 puckouts in the second-half. Three of four to the right half-forward position were won while seven from eight were lost on the left and all five down the middle resulting in a lot of clean possession for Tipp’s Conor O’Mahony and Pádraig Maher who was more comfortable when moved to the right around the 55th minute.

This possession monopoly orchestrated the fight-back. One begs the question why a more varied approach wasn’t taken when Limerick led by seven points halfway through that second-half?

One could argue that Limerick had built up their lead using the same puckout strategy but no team dominates for 35 minutes. Tipp’s Noel McGrath was moved out as a third midfielder, leaving Tom Condon as a free man.

Condon is excellent at running ball out of defence from puck-outs thereby retaining possession but he was never used. Treaty corner-backs Condon and Stephen Walsh delivered long clearances often ignoring midfielder Paul Browne who was regularly available for passes.

These long clearances resulted in transfers from Tipp’s defence to midfield and both Shane and Noel McGrath used short ball from midfield to set up Bonner Maher, Seamus Callanan and Shane Bourke to run at the Limerick defence scoring points or drawing fouls.

These substitutions changed the tactics to direct running and allied to Tipp’s half-back line dominance finally paved the way for their success.


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