It’s been over two months since Limerick’s last competitive fixture and even that was a negative, a bitter one-point loss to Dublin in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1B promotion final, Limerick having topped the table after the completion of the regular rounds.
In stark comparison, and pointed out by Limerick manager John Allen, Tipperary were playing until a month ago, reached the league final and though they were beaten, maintained honour in that loss to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
“Tipp are coming into this game having had seven very competitive games — the five league games, then the league semi-final and final. Playing Division 1B is a big disadvantage.”
So it is that Tipperary are odds-on favourites to advance to yet another Munster final, despite the fact that almost the same situation pertained last year and yet — though the game was in Thurles — Limerick put the eventual Munster champions to the pin of their collar.
Allen responded: “Yes, but I’ve made a decision not to read any more about that game. I was listening to the RTÉ previews and Limerick didn’t get a mention — rightly so, Tipperary are the form team in Munster, second in the country behind Kilkenny. I have no doubt they’ll be hot favourites for this one, that’s how it is.
“We have to keep positive. It’s probably the same group of players who’ll be lining out but you’d have to agree that Tipperary are stronger this year, better organised, did better in the league. But we have as good a chance as we had last year.”
That’s the thing — even in the face of all the odds, you gotta believe.
“I’ve heard people on radio commenting on teams from Division 1B and you know they haven’t seen any of the games — it’s so far from the truth you’d be turning it off and saying, ‘that’s just rubbish’.
“I can see why Limerick, as the only Munster team in Division 1B this year, wouldn’t be rated, but maybe that’s a good thing for us. When you’re going to training every night and seeing what fellas are putting in, seeing the knocks they’re taking in games, seeing the weight fellas have lost, the muscle they’ve put on — I’ve no doubt that Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford and everyone else are doing it also, but when you’re in there seeing the effort being put in...”
Yes indeed; when you’re seeing that effort, when you’re supervising that effort, you’ve got to have faith. Blind faith? No, not when you have players of the calibre of those now on this Limerick team. Rock solid from keeper to midfield, then a host of options up front. What’s not to like?
Allen agrees: “The six backs are well in situ from last year and when Donal O’Grady got injured [earlier this year] Paudie O’Brien, who had been midfield, slotted into wing-back and was very good. We now have the six of those plus Mark Carmody and Alan Dempsey.
“Seamus Hickey is back and playing well, will probably play in the forwards, anywhere across the half-forward line. If everyone is available we have 10 or 11 for the six forward slots and that’s a good position to be in.”
Limerick (SH v Tipperary): N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; P O’Brien, W McNamara, G O’Mahony; P Browne, D O’Grady: D Breen, J Ryan, S Hickey; G Mulcahy, D Hannon, S Tobin.