DONAL O'GRADY: Three steps to Munster heaven

The key areas that will decide tomorrow’s championship opener in Semple Stadium

1 The puck-out

Nicky Quaid and Brendan Cummins will handle the ball more than any other player on their respective teams. The goalkeepers’ distribution from play and from puck-outs could have a major influence on the outcome.

Cummins modified the puck-out strategy a few years ago and has a number of strategies — the pre-planned long bombs onto his midfield and forwards or the short stabbed efforts to free defenders.

Against Cork in the league semi-final the puck-out tactic looked a little off. Cummins struck two efforts directly to Cork forwards and his normal pinpoint accuracy to his midfielders/half-forwards was below his own high standard. Hitting the puckout/clearance target builds confidence. I’m expecting Cummins to hit quite a few to John O’Brien as he drifts from the left corner to the wing. O’Brien is good in the air and uses the ball well. He may also switch with big Brian O’Meara from time to time. Clean possession from these men will spell big trouble for Limerick.

Limerick’s Nicky Quaid will go long as often as possible and I’m expecting the majority of his clearances to land on their half-forward line. Both custodians will be keen to improve on their spring showings and provide their team with a solid platform for success.

2 Crucial match-ups

Contests in team sports usually come down to individual battles. Limerick wing-forwards David Breen (probably picked at 10 to curb Padraig Maher) and Shane Dowling (picked at 12 — normally at 10) are Limerick’s main targets for puckouts and must perform well in general tomorrow.

Limerick defenders are crucial to the success of Breen, Allis and Dowling at half-forward. It is vital for Limerick’s chances that they receive quality ball so they can run at Tipperary’s half-backs and link with the inside forwards. Maher could switch wings to mark Dowling, as subduing the young marksman would be a big psychological fillip for the Premier County. Na Piarsaigh’s Breen and Dowling have been on the go for a long time without a break which is a cause of concern for the visitors as Maher and Thomas Stapleton like to get forward with Conor O’Mahony holding the centre. The contest between these two lines will be crucial. The other big battle will be at the edge of Limerick’s square. Brian O’Meara has a height and strength advantage over full-back Richie McCarthy. Tipp will aim to supply fast, head height ball to the full-forward while Eoin Kelly will pull Tom Condon, Limerick’s best defender, away from the danger zone.

3 Mental strength

The psychological state of a team is the great unknown entering a championship game. Which team is in a better place mentally and who will buckle at a critical time. The mentally stronger team full of belief and ready for battle normally wins. So where are Tipp and Limerick in this regard?

Both managers are under pressure after disappointing spring campaigns. In the league semi-final Tipp’s players looked lost and thirsting for leadership. Yes, they were short some players but this doesn’t account for the lack of intensity or form that afternoon. Will the ‘clear the air meeting’ after that game result in very different performance tomorrow?

Limerick had fitness issues throughout the league which can only be answered tomorrow. Manager John Allen stated on these pages this week that he was “quietly confident” while on a recent radio interview he said that “things are going fantastically well”.

Usually managers play things down but statements like these indicate huge confidence in the Limerick camp. If this confidence is based on strong foundations and if Tipperary’s mental fortitude hasn’t recovered then the playing pitch will level off considerably.

Tipperary look better defensively but Limerick enjoy being underdogs more than most.


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