Too early for Limerick folk to be dreaming of Croke Park in late July. Too early for Cork folk to be worrying about those questions Galway may ask them that Tipperary only half-asked them. Too early to be viewing tonight as anything other than a clash of neighbours and rivals. There will be plenty of time afterwards to tease out the implications.
A Bank Holiday’s worth of time.
Too early also to be pondering the significance of the scheduling of the fixture, which will have some hand, act or part in the outcome but which similarly can only be gauged after the fact.
Were Cork destined, in their third outing in three weeks, to hit a flat spot or were they in such a groove that their momentum carried them through? Did Limerick’s free weekend arrive at the right moment, allowing them come down gently from the high of the Tipp game, or did it prove an instant passion killer?
Answers tonight. Not this morning.
All of that said, the fixture does not represent the free swing for Limerick it may initially appear to. A win against Waterford would give them a minimum of four points: grand.
So much the better, then, if the visitors can bring a split of the spoils away with them this evening.
Cork did that in Thurles last Sunday and it’s already money in the bank. If in the circumstances it was a better point for Tipperary, it was no bad outcome for John Meyler’s men either. Ten minutes from time, there was only one team that had the impetus, that were getting the ball past their half-forward line and that looked likely — not certain, but likely — winners. It wasn’t the crowd in red.
In a round robin where everyone is busy beating everyone else, an away draw may constitute the result that pushes a county over the quota and into the provincial final. Cork possess that point, that pearl. Limerick will require a replica sooner or later.
But let’s not fret. Although reading a volume into the evidence book provided by one match remains the danger it ever was, we saw more than enough from John Kiely’s men before their championship opener to be hopeful on their behalf.
Cork are much the same entity as they were last year, which was to be expected.
Limerick are far from the same entity that they were last year, which was to be hoped for but was not guaranteed.
If the Limerick of 2017 were always going to be a work in progress, the Limerick of 2018 were no certainties to win Division 1B, particularly not with Galway in the group. They did it nonetheless and a fortnight ago they achieved something no less notable: Kiely put out a team that succeeded in doing a specific job on their first outing in the championship.
This is not as straightforward a task as it sounds. Brian Cody, Michael Ryan and Derek McGrath have all failed in the same regard in the past 13 months. And yes, Tipp were dismal, albeit Limerick’s win looks a better result than it did before Semple Stadium last Sunday. (Just for the record, it looked a fine result even before Semple Stadium last Sunday.)
A 10-point victory wouldn’t have flattered Limerick a fortnight ago. They were uncomplicated without being one-dimensional. They were forceful without being unnecessarily physical. They were intelligent without being too clever for their own good. This was, in every way, a second-season manager’s team.
Kiely has long talked a sensible, realistic, occasionally rueful game. For the Tipp match, Paul Kinnerk coached a masterful game, an object lesson in operating within one’s limitations and doubling down on one’s strengths.
The lack of pace in the half-forward line is a qualm, alleviated slightly by the fact that Limerick have attacking substitutes and are prepared to throw them on. A bigger and more long-running issue, Graeme Mulcahy’s effectiveness at the Gaelic Grounds notwithstanding, surrounds the question of how many Limerick forwards can make a difference in the last 30 metres of the field and how willing — and able — the corner-forwards are to step inside their marker and take a punt rather than step outside their marker and take the point.
But the pivotal defensive berth gives Declan Hannon a measure of a quarter-back’s time on the ball that his previous life up front didn’t afford him and while Cian Lynch’s duty is to gather up the threads behind the half-forward line and spin new ones, his haul of 0-2 against Tipperary was pleasing. Come to think of it, Lynch should really be aiming to land three points every day.
The selection of Mike Casey instead of Seamus Hickey doesn’t come as a surprise. Casey is resourceful and adaptable, a forward until he was U16, far from a natural number three but clever enough to adapt. Normally it’s sufficient for a good full-back to be like a good referee — unnoticed — but against the Cork forward line steadiness is not enough. Speed is essential too.
Cork? Their first-half display at Semple Stadium, all fluency and fizz, showed why they’ll be a pleasure to watch this summer. There is not a more pure-hurling team in the land. Their second-half display demonstrated that it’s not all about fluency and fizz. Nor can it be if they are to win the All-Ireland.
For all that the loss of Alan Cadogan has deprived them of two or three first-half points for the duration of his absence, the lack of security around the landing areas in the half-forward line is a bigger concern.
Limerick, if they were allowed ram-raid the sweetshop in Thurles, would make off with John McGrath. Cork, granted the same indulgence, would make off with Dan McCormack.
Go close tonight with an XV containing 11 All-Ireland U21 winners from the past three years and nothing will have changed in the space of a fortnight. Limerick will remain potential Munster finalists.
Win and they become potential Munster champions.
==============Model will test Tribe credentials
They won’t have been telling themselves this beforehand, not in so many words, but a statement performance was required of Galway in Salthill last Sunday. A performance worthy of reigning champions. A performance worthy of putative double champions.
They provided it in spades. An eight-point margin of victory that would have been 11 but for Walter Walsh’s goal in the 74th minute and that might have been 15. Or as Timeform would have put it: Made all under a tight rein, never troubled, pulled away in the final furlong.
That’s not to say that Wexford Park this evening will be another stroll, for Davy Fitz’s lads made a statement of their own last weekend. As well as showing that Offaly were running on fumes, their five goals underlined the reality that Wexford have kicked on in the manager’s second season and broadened their attacking horizons.
Seven days ago there was no tactical overindulgence, just a recognition that Offaly were wounded and should be attacked from the off by a team in conventional formation. Yet another step forward for Davy’s Wexford. Afterwards he even sounded like a man who’d done a few miles on the road to Damascus. “If I was watching as a neutral I’d imagine it’s exciting stuff because you never know where anyone is going to pop up and score from. I like that style of hurling.”
Not exactly the old high priest of catenaccio, eh?
The prize for both teams here is a ticket to the Leinster final, with the added incentive for Wexford of not having to worry too much about Nowlan Park next weekend if they win; scoring difference will see them through in the event of a three-way finish on six points.
If Galway head home tonight with a narrow win, they’ll be doing well.
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