n early February, speaking about Limerick’s pre-league preparation, new manager John Kiely stated: “If we keep progressing at that rate in the months ahead, I think we’ll be in a great place by the summer.”
This week Kiely stated that training “has been superb” and that their preparations included ‘friendly’ wins against Cork and two over Waterford. Confident public comment from a manager is rare. Self-belief is obviously very strong in the Treaty camp. Kiely also emphasised that Limerick “want to play to our strengths.” Clare will work to negate those strengths.
The championship is all about skill and pace. Limerick’s strengths are based on collective support and workrate. They are as skilful as the rest, however in championship speed is king although local derbies can take on a life of their own.
Shane Dowling’s ability to score from long-range frees and play is one of their strengths. Tight marking on Dowling, forcing him to defend forward runs by his marker and the non-concession of avoidable frees will go a long way to nullifying this strength. Limerick are good under opposition puckouts, although Diarmaid Byrnes is a loss in this regard. I expect Clare to vary their restarts to avoid landing them down on the Limerick half-back line. I could see the Clare attack shifting to one side of the pitch for puckouts and then having Tony Kelly or Podge Collins break off quickly across into space, as the ball is being struck. Alternatively a half-back, breaking forward into the vacated area, would be picked out by Clare ’keeper Andrew Fahy.
As a unit, Limerick’s defence lacks experience. This could be a strength if it means they’ll work much harder for each other. Or will they be isolated and torn apart by Clare’s speedy attack? Tomorrow they go into the arena and all will be revealed. Like Maximus and his gladiators, sticking together is their best chance of survival.
Tony Kelly played wing forward in recent challenge games. If I was making the decision I would place him at centre-forward. Podge Collins would initially go to the left corner but would play outside, just goal side of the centre-forward. Conor McGrath, Shane O’Donnell and Aron Shanagher, who is strong in the air, would operate inside. Isolating defenders near goal, by creating ‘one on one’ scenarios between these three, all goal-getters, and their opponents would be top of the agenda. I’d also have the forwards rotating and place John Conlon near goal from time to time, where his strength might cause problems at full-forward.
Kelly possesses all the qualities needed to direct the game for the Banner from the number 11 position. Intelligence, clever positioning and long-range point scoring, as well as an eye for goal. He would be the hub which channels the ball to the other attackers. Regular runs at the defence from half-forward, seeking goals, would be encouraged.
Clare defenders use a mobile passing system to transition the ball from defence to attack. Once in midfield, they offload with accurate short passes or diagonal balls to their inside attack.
Kelly’s elusive running ability and capacity to drift off his marker at the correct time to receive passes will provide Clare with good opportunities to open up the Limerick defence. Drifting directly back into midfield or diagonally right or left will allow Kelly to gain possession in space. He will then have various options. One will be to turn and run directly at the defence with ‘off the shoulder’ support from Conlon and midfielder Colm Galvin, while Collins also runs angled support lines. These forays at the heart of a defence forces the outside defenders to turn and retreat causing confusion. Defenders are forced to make split-second game-defining decisions at times when they’re faced away from the play. All the likes of Kelly needs is a slight defensive error or hesitation to strike for goal or to deliver the killer pass.
Limerick should police the defensive zone directly in front of their centre-half back with discipline and aggression. Podge Collins may alternate with Tony Kelly to occupy the centre-forward berth.The ideal solution for the Treaty would be to man-mark these dangerous attackers at half-back. However man-marking outfield is a specialised job for an expert with gifts of balance, pace, discipline, aggression and stamina. I am not aware of any player on the Limerick panel that fits this ‘job description’ so plan B must be considered.
This dictates that under no circumstances will the centre-back be asked to play a man-marking role. His main task is to occupy the central area and protect the “D” while midfielder and captain James Ryan plays a holding role, just in front of Collins or Kelly obstructing their supply, with Cian Lynch also working back from centre-forward.
When Clare attacks break down, Ryan will be crucial to the Limerick counter-attack, by making himself available for outlet ball from defence. Once in possession, it is important that he moves forward in a central position to ‘fix’ defenders. His fellow midfielder Paul Browne has pace, stamina and favours his left side. Browne could run a support line in an ‘inside left’ position while Seamus Hickey would run support outside, towards the wing.
Shane Dowling, capable of long-range scores, would move into the centre from the wing on the 65 as an outlet for a crossfield ball. Left-half forward David Dempsey and centre-forward Cian Lynch would time their forward runs to offer themselves as receivers in threatening areas. Limerick haven’t scored more than one goal against the better teams. If the route to goal is clogged up then Hickey or Browne could strike diagonal high ball to the edge of the square. The tall Kyle Hayes must vigorously contest these with the pacy Peter Casey pouncing on the breaking ball. This tactic might supply a goal or two and goals win games.