THE Limerick hurling fans who opted to go to Kilkee, Ballybunion and such places yesterday made a poor decision; the place to be was Costa del Semple where their team put up a heroic challenge against hot favourites Tipperary.
And who knows, those absent supporters might even had made a difference in those final crucial minutes, might have given energy to tiring legs.
No disrespect to those who did turn up, but this was as poorly supported a Limerick team as I’ve ever seen. A pity, because these players deserve support — it’s time for the supporters to get positive about their team. By God did they give it their all!
The likes of Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy and Tom Condon obviously hadn’t read the script for this game; neither had Wayne McNamara, Donal O’Grady or Gavin O’Mahony; nor indeed Paul Browne and James Ryan in midfield, nor David Breen, Conor Allis, Shane Dowling, Graeme Mulcahy, Kevin Downes nor Seanie Tobin up front.
I call them all by name because every one of them is worthy of mention, every one of them gave everything they had for Limerick yesterday.
People talking about upset within the camp — rubbish, and the players proved it in the only place you can prove it, on the field. For 55 minutes Limerick out-hurled what everyone considers to be the second-best team in the land. At that stage they badly needed to bring in fresh legs, fit legs, fast legs; instead they took off two of the fastest men they had in Seanie Tobin and Kevin Downes.
Maybe they could have given one or two of the O’Briens a go, Tomás, Seanie or Paudie, all of whom meet the criteria for late substitutions — they can run at you, and they will run at you.
Contrast that then with the subs Tipp brought on — Bonner Maher, Shane McGrath, Seamus Callanan, Shane Bourke and even in defence, a frustrated attacker, Conor O’Brien. Those five were the ones who turned this game.
The change of tactics helped also, going direct instead of trying to be too precise. For the life of me I can’t understand why Tipperary didn’t use their big-man at full-forward, Brian O’Meara. This guy is an outstanding hurler, by far the most consistent of the Tipperary forwards — give him the ball, any kind of ball.
Speaking of tactics, why did Limerick start to pump ball down on the Tipp half-back line, which brought Conor O’Mahony and Paraic Maher — otherwise subdued — storming into the game? Those guys will gobble up that ball all day long, and return it with interest.
Those substitutions turned it, and I never again want to hear this nonsense talk about Declan Ryan lacking steel on the sideline. Along with Tommy Dunne and Michael Gleeson, he made the hard calls yesterday, the calls that needed to be made. People can say he picked the wrong team to start with, and any of us who has ever had that task knows, we can all make that mistake; you must be able to rectify it, make whatever hard decision has to be made.
Names meant nothing to Declan Ryan, reputations didn’t matter, and so the likes of Eoin Kelly made the long walk. I was impressed too by the way Eoin accepted his substitution, as did all those who were taken off — you’re not going to star every day and if it’s not working for you, off you go.
Declan Ryan was one of the hardest men to play for Tipperary in the last two or three decades, never shirked it when the going got tough, and likewise Tommy Dunne; he doesn’t shirk it on the sideline either.
This display of pure character also gave the lie to those who say there’s trouble in the Tipperary camp — a team that’s fighting itself doesn’t perform like Tipp performed in the final crucial quarter yesterday. Mind you, Bonner Maher made some difference!
It sets things up nicely now for the Munster semi-final, Tipp meeting Cork in Cork, and this game will have done them no harm at all. Limerick too, I’ll say this — they’ll give any team they meet in the qualifiers all they can handle.
However, if I were from Limerick, going back to those supporters, I’d feel a bit aggrieved at being charged €30 for a first-round game. It was a double-header but Limerick hurling supporters had no interest in the football opener, between Tipp and Kerry.
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