Form is clearly temporary in hurling. If the bookmakers are to believed, the 100% 2019 Munster SHC record Tipperary bring to Limerick on Sunday is of no consequence and will be broken. Tipp’s four-point win over the same opposition 11 days ago, having lost two of their in-form players in the first half, appears to be irrelevant too.
So other than Limerick being the reigning All-Ireland and Division 1 champions, what gives exactly?
But of course. It’s at the Ennis Road stadium where Tipperary’s 2018 Championship was sent spiraling. Four years ago, Tipperary fired 4-23 there and all their goalscorers that day will start on Sunday.
Yet the only Limerick survivors will be Declan Hannon, Graeme Mulcahy and Cian Lynch. Limerick’s battlements were damaged by Cork last month but they had built them up again by the time Clare attempted to lay siege.
But of course. The crowds Limerick have been attracting this year have the Munster Council smiling from ear to ear. In both Walsh Park and Semple Stadium, there was reason to believe they outnumbered the home crowd. They were out in force for the last Munster Final in 2013 and complained about Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s reduced capacity the following season.
We should know by now that John Kiely is not a man for making excuses, but it is a little ironic how three years ago he was bemoaning Limerick’s lack of championship games — two — and now laments the volume of them. However, three matches in the space of 14 days was a hefty schedule and he had good reason to give players a break in Thurles when Tipperary had enjoyed adequate rest-time.
Not that Limerick would give the trophy back but retaining the Liam MacCarthy Cup would be mightily difficult were they to suffer a third defeat of the summer. Kiely has spoken of this year possibly being more special than 2018 and Seamus Flanagan maintained in January that nobody works harder than Limerick only for Cork to bunk that belief. It can be argued the need for the home team to win on Sunday is greater.
The conspiracy theories will continue in Clare for some time to come about Limerick’s modus operandi going into that final round match. From Donal O’Grady of this newspaper pointing out how John Kiely, Paul Kinnerk and other management figures were deep in conversation towards the end of the game instead of cajoling their players, to the general slackness in the team’s play, Limerick mightn’t have literally spoken indifference but their body language did.
It’s safe to say Kiely took a calculated risk with his team in Thurles. He knew a few of his players would be leggy and made changes accordingly while probably aware it would have taken something dramatic for Limerick not to remain in the championship. He therefore had a safety net and there is another one present on Sunday, but on this occasion it is one he would prefer not to use. This may as well be knockout for Limerick, as was the case against Clare earlier in the month.
Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher
The best player on the field up to sustaining that cruel cruciate injury, the Lorrha-Dorrha man had been as influential in curbing the sniping skills of Diarmaid Byrnes as he had been in making the ball stick in Limerick’s side of the pitch. The time it was taking Limerick to move the ball forward was far too slow and Maher was filibustering with aplomb. Liam Sheedy can only hope Dan McCormack or Niall O’Meara spoil as effectively.
Absent the last day, the Limerick captain’s vision and supply were missing in the defeat to Tipperary.
Where Byrnes has a penchant for opening the shoulders and letting fly and Dan Morrissey and Paddy O’Loughlin are predominantly runners and spoilers, the Adare man knows exactly what type of ball his forwards want, having played in that half of the field for Limerick before John Kiely took over.
The Holycross-Ballycahill man has been in All-Star form this summer having been
returned to where he plays best after a stint further out the field.
Michael Ryan clearly felt he could do something along the lines of what Johnny Coen did for Galway but now Tipperary’s best inside man-marker is a serious doubt to play. Can Tipp plug the gap he would leave?
As one player goes out of Tipperary’s full-back-line, one comes in for Limerick’s full-forward line. While Mulcahy did play in the second half last Sunday week, he will be in from the off here. Few Limerick players have shown they love playing Tipp more than the nimble 29-year-old. His likely marker Seán O’Brien must be on his toes for him.
The Hurler of the Year was rested from starting the last day — what a luxury for Limerick — but the pre-match perception was that Kiely was sending out a message that nobody was safe. When Limerick were flailing against Cork, it was Lynch who was fighting the hardest. Noel McGrath’s radar and reading of a game might be better, Michael Breen has more power but Lynch’s dynamism is not matched by either.