Time for Limerick to deliver

MOST of the attention in the hurling championship this weekend is on the Munster final in Thurles. But there are also two key qualifiers this evening, in the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick.

Clare take on Laois at 5.30pm in a match that the Banner men will be expected to win, yet it is only the appetiser for the qualifier clash of the host county and Tipperary (7.30pm).

Both were beaten by similar margins in the Munster semi-finals but in very different circumstances. It was nearly four weeks ago that underdogs Limerick lost to Cork by three points, but only after handing the Rebels the initiative with a soft second-half goal.

One week later Tipp went to Cork as odds-on favourites to beat Waterford, lost the match by a single point to a late goal, but lost a lot of lustre in a sub-par team performance.

Both are coming to this game from almost polar opposite positions, but the prospect facing both is the same. Lose, and it's goodbye to the 2004 championship.

Not a prospect that appeals to Limerick's outstanding defender Ollie Moran.

"We were reasonably happy with our performance against Cork, but we felt all along we had a lot better chance than people gave us. Unfortunately we came up short, but there was a sense of a moral victory around the place, which can lead teams into complacency.

"That's something we have to try and avoid. A moral victory will be no good against Tipperary

"The time for moral victories is over, it's time to deliver now. We have to be more clinical we have to start winning big games, we can't spend the next few years having moral victories.

"I'm getting tired of that. There's no more margin for error."

The problem for teams beaten in the earlier rounds of the championship is, of course, to pick themselves up again for the qualifiers. Even the fans, and Limerick hurling supporters are as loyal as any, have trouble lifting themselves for this one.

There is no such apathy among the players however, according to Moran.

"The attitude all along has been very positive, in fact, I don't think it's ever been better, certainly not as long as I've been on the panel. Fellas are very happy with the set-up this year, the panel has gelled an awful lot better than in previous years.

"We had reports last year of a split in the camp between the older fellas and the new lads coming on, which was never the case, but in fairness it probably did take guys a while to get used to one another. That's definitely happened this year.

"Don't get me wrong, we were very disappointed after the Cork game, we felt we'd left it behind us again. Now we have this second chance, and we'll be doing our best to take advantage of it. We've worked very hard in training, it's gone well, things are going fine.

We won't know how fine, of course, until five minutes into the game!"

As a unit, as a team hurt by the reaction inside and outside their own county after the Waterford loss, Ollie knows to expect a backlash from Tipperary.

And from the Kelly brothers, in particular.

"Paul is an Allstar at wing-back, but he played most of his hurling at wing-forward or midfield growing up. I think he's actually more suited to the forwards and did well there for Mullinahone in the club championship lately.

"Eoin was simply awesome against Waterford, wasn't he? He is the best forward in the country, without a shadow of a doubt. We're going to have to do something to cut those boys off, but I don't know what drug the water in their dressing-room or something!"

Limerick will also be looking to their two flyers, corner-forwards Andrew O'Shaughnessy and Donncha Sheehan, both of whom disappointed against Cork.

O'Shaughnessy, an Army Cadet, missed most of the preparations for that game due to commitments in the Curragh but that situation has improved and reports out of Limerick suggest that he is now back to his lethal best.

Clare and Tipperary will be fancied to do the double, but while the first game is probably easier to call, hurling punters will write off Limerick at their peril. Despite its much lower profile, if both sides bring their true form, this game has the potential to match any other in this championship.

LIMERICK: J Cahill; D Reale, TJ Ryan, M Cahill; O Moran, B Geary, P Lawlor; C Smith, M Foley; M McKenna, JP Sheehan, N Moran; A O'Shaughnessy, S O'Connor, D Sheahan.

TIPPERARY: B Cummins; M Maher, P Maher, P Curran; E Corcoran, D Fanning, D Fitzgerald; C Morrissey, P Kelly; T Dunne, E Enright, B Dunne; S Butler, J Carroll, E Kelly.

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