For all the talk of upheaval in the Dublin panel following Michael Carton’s retirement just days ahead of this evening’s qualifier, opponents Limerick haven’t been without their own in-camp issues.
No surprise, you might say, but spare us the Limerick stereotypes. A bloodletting is no bad thing. In fact, it should be a requisite after a 16-point defeat to a Tipperary side they have beaten the previous two seasons. But Limerick being Limerick, reports of arguments have a habit of growing bodies on legs.
With passionate characters like TJ Ryan and Stephen McDonagh on one side of the whitewash and a core group of players who have stood up for themselves in strikes and driven so much of the county’s success themselves in recent seasons, it would only be expected that some of the words exchanged matched the cut and thrust that defined their training sessions leading up to their win over Clare.
Seamus Hickey and Declan Hannon mightn’t have played against Westmeath last Sunday but they are restored in the named team this evening. Could they have any arguments about being dropped following the Tipperary game?
Very few, so indifferent was their form in both Munster matches. After a decent outing in Mullingar, Seánie Tobin is bitterly unfortunate not to keep his spot but there’ll be no toys thrown out of the pram.
Down Kilmallock way, Mike Houlihan has heard no whispers of discontent in the group. Even if there was, he says, it wouldn’t be so bad. “They say when a family has a row it’s a good thing. You know, Limerick had their spake in 2010 and so have other counties and we won’t be the last, but the commitment to the game has driven a lot of those things out.
“What happened in Limerick last month, Tipperary could do to any team when they get in a bit of a flow. We were only a point down halfway through the second half. This game now I see as a revenge battle for the league (quarter-final) performance against Dublin. It should be their biggest focal point because they performed very poorly that day in Croke Park.
“Limerick know they have to perform. This is a big week for Limerick hurling with the minors going for three-in-a-row on Sunday and the U21s out next week (Munster semi-final v Tipperary next Thursday). To reach three Munster finals is a great achievement but to win a third would be massive.”
Graeme Mulcahy’s excellent game against Westmeath notwithstanding, Houlihan hears in his pub the talk of Limerick’s forwards and how they need an out-and-out goal-getter. He would argue the team’s resources are scanter towards the other end of the field.
“We haven’t enough people breaking into our backs. Seánie O’Brien is really the only one who has come into a set of backs which has probably been there now for the last four or five years. At this stage, a 19 or 20-year-old should be coming in and taking over.
“I know there’s more talk about forwards and obviously they’re the ones that do most of the scoring but we are conceding scores too.
He’s glad to see the nephew of his former team-mates Ciaran and Pa Carey, Cian Lynch, developing in his first year as a senior player. But the man of the match performance against Clare saw the Patrickswell teenager thrust into the spotlight a little too much Houlihan’s liking. He’d love to see him win more plaudits but would prefer if he were allowed to blossom at his own pace.
“He plays midfield for his club and played there with the U21s last year and marked Tony Kelly.
“He acquitted himself very well there but with the team Clare had it was only a matter of time before things weren’t to go your way.
“His pace is a big asset, he’s going to break tackles and bear down on goals but he’s not a goal finisher as yet. He wasn’t with the minors either. He’s a playmaker and a point-taker.
“At this level, he has to get used to losing more games too and he will have his disappointments but it’s important he’s given time to settle and be left alone. There’s a lot of talk about him but much of it is not necessary.”