TONY CONSIDINE: A battle to whet the appetite

Expect Limerick to put it up to Tipperary in Thurles tomorrow.

Here we are on the eve of the first round of the Munster championship and where is all the hype? Where’s the marketing by the GAA, by the Munster Council? This is supposed to be the provincial championship in hurling – where is all the pre-match publicity?

We are talking about the All-Ireland senior champions of two years ago, finalists for the last three years facing an up-and-coming Limerick team. Have the GAA thrown in the towel already due to the European Championships? Look at the publicity being generated by that – it is massive already, dominating the sports pages day in day out and we’re weeks away from kick-off.

Hurling is probably the best field game of them all, yet we’re light years behind the other bodies in promoting it. That goes also for the two participating counties – where is all the hype in Limerick and Tipperary? I don’t see it.

People are talking about hurling being in trouble, that it’s dying on its feet. I don’t agree. I think it’s still healthy at grassroots level. But at inter-county level it’s being very poorly promoted. The powers-that-be need to shove the players out front, shove the managers out. There’s all this talk about people leaving panels, about managers in trouble, about Brian Cody and Kilkenny’s physicality – why is so much that’s happening around hurling so negative?

Hurling is the best game I know, so let’s promote it.

And there is plenty to look forward to in Semple Stadium this weekend. Limerick and Tipperary are two counties who will always tear into each other. Cast your mind back a few years to the three-game saga between these teams and the excitement that generated. That’s the kind of thrill they nearly always provide. There’s no reason to expect it won’t be the same tomorrow.

Limerick face the champions with a new-look side, many of them graduating from last year’s U21 team. They’ll be underdogs but they will not fear their hosts, who are desperate to shake off their tag of ‘second best team in Ireland’ that has followed them since the All-Ireland final defeat by Kilkenny.

Let’s look at Tipperary first. Those forwards, given any room, will destroy a team. In particular, there’s great meas on Brian O’Meara on the edge of the square. He’s a throwback to the old style full-forward, a big strong man well able to win his own ball, well able to hold off even the most powerful full-back and also with the skills to score.

Alongside him are two hugely experienced players in Eoin Kelly and John O’Brien. That line could be crucial in deciding the outcome.

Then again, I don’t expect that Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy and Tom Condon will be standing back admiring that trio; those are three tough players who are well able to hurl. That’s going to be some battle in that area. But Limerick be warned. If the space opens up, any one of that Tipperary trio will go for the jugular.

Then we go outside and another potentially massive battle. With Seamus Hickey injured, Limerick are stuck for options but in shifting Donal O’Grady from midfield to centre-back they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. One thing Donal shouldn’t be is loose, playing like a midfielder, nor should Gavin O’Mahony nor Wayne McNamara alongside him; if they are cavalier they will be punished. Gearoid Ryan is deadly accurate, we know what Noel McGrath can do if left loose, and likewise Pa Bourke. Limerick will need to be airtight here.

The battles in those two lines is typical of what’s going to happen throughout the field. Look at the Limerick full-forward line – Graeme Mulcahy, Kevin Downes, Seanie Tobin, those are three very pacy players, and on a fast dry pitch, if they get enough quality ball who knows the damage this trio could do? Big contests in those two corners and again, if given a sniff Tobin and Mulcahy can score goals.

I think Tipperary have a point to prove here. Everything is in their favour – they’re in Thurles, the weather will be fine, Limerick have a few injury problems. The hosts to win, but Limerick to put up a fight.


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