Donal O'Grady: Limerick’s first aim should be ‘hammering the hammer’

Tipperary are serious All-Ireland contenders in many people’s eyes and are hot favourites for tomorrow’s Munster semi-final against Limerick.

They are at home after an impressive first-round performance. Their fans are gaining in confidence and beginning to dream again of September success.

If you were the Limerick boss, you couldn’t have scripted a better approach — there are no expectations within the county and therefore no pressure on the players.

Written off in the media they will take these public pre-game pronouncements as personal insults. It all amounts to classic motivation for the underdog and TJ Ryan will have re-minded his troops that they have always done well in the past against their bitter rivals in similar scenarios.

‘Hammering the hammer’ should be the first aim for the Treaty.

Padraig Maher is Tipp’s hammer. His colleagues and the supporters in the stands respond to his exploits and he is the supporting outlet for others in the defence when they’re under pressure. Delegating tall Gearóid Hegarty or James Ryan, or rotating different players, to mark Maher, preventing him from getting possession and driving forward, should be high on Ryan’s agenda.

If Limerick can reduce Maher’s influence, or better still turn him over a few times, it will be a huge psychological boost for the visitors and a blow to the hosts.

Tipperary boss Michael Ryan will have studied Limerick’s previous two performances. He will have noted that their full-back line looked a little shaky under diagonal high ball and, like any inside defence, when their opponents ran directly at them.

Ryan knows he has pacey forwards capable of inflicting a lot of damage if they get quality deliveries from midfield and their half-backs.

If I was Michael Ryan, I would plan for similar forward set-ups: One opposing a sweeper-type Treaty defence and the other a straight six on six.

Noel McGrath named at left half forward would be central to this tactic. He is a player with huge talent but at times he gets marginalised on the wing and needs to be centrally involved in the play.

I would have centre-forward Patrick Maher directly facing the Limerick centre-half-back. His instructions would be somewhat of a role-reversal marking him as if he, the forward, was a tight marking corner-back.

I would then place McGrath directly on the sweeper (if one existed) or as a second centre-forward. He would operate around the centre-forward position, dropping quickly off his man into midfield as a receiver for short deliveries from the defence.

A half-back line or sweeper thrives on long deliveries out of the opposing defence. It is far more difficult to read 30m quick passes. McGrath has the ability to take long-range points or feed in accurate ball, bypassing a sweeper or defenders to the trio inside.

McGrath’s marker, the right half-back or sweeper, would be faced with a dilemma: To hold their positions or to man mark McGrath.

If there is no sweeper and if the right half-back is following his man, a direct corridor would be open to Seamus Callanan in the left corner who does some of his best work drifting into this area, vacated by the corner-forward.

Tipperary like to swing the ball from opposite wings to their half and full-forwards.

If the right half back holds his position, with the sweeper occupied by McGrath, it presents an opportunity for the three Mahers — Padraig, Ronan, and Brendan — to supply the dangerous John O’Dwyer on the other wing one-on-one with his marker, who could in turn link up with John McGrath or Seamus Callanan, his colleague in the full-forward line.

Keeping O’Dwyer, Seamus Callanan, and John McGrath inside would heap pressure on Limerick’s inexperienced inside rearguard.

There is a good balance to Limerick’s midfield. Paul Browne should have a licence to go forward while James Ryan should operate just in front of the centre-back position. Centre forward Shane Dowling, so accurate from long range, could play a deeper role towards midfield. Good use of the ball from defence is critical to play this type of game and direct turnovers must be kept to the minimum.

Up front, Limerick should seek to draw out Tipp’s sterling corner back Colin Barrett to reduce the cover for full-back James Barry. Cian Lynch would be the best option to play this role as he has pace, intelligence and he can score from long range. Effectively this would leave two on two inside.

There is a strong correlation between attacking ploys in hurling and soccer. Anyone watching Euro 2016 will see how quality high diagonal ball from 30m or 40m puts severe pressure on defenders, whereas balls straight down the middle are much easier to defend.

Limerick full forward Declan Hannon has a few inches on James Barry. An obvious tactic for Limerick is to put the wing forwards in possession from midfield with short stick passes and then to strike quality quick high ball towards the big full forward. Corner forward Graeme Mulcahy is quick, opportunistic, and a goalscorer.

His role would be to stay close to the ‘square’ looking for any breaking ball from Hannon. Corner-backs, defending breaking ball, normally stay behind the full back, giving ‘carte blanche’ to the forward if the ball breaks out.

Goals will win matches and poor discipline will lose them.


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