Donal O’Grady: Possession name of the game as Tipperary outfield players rule the roost

Tipperary’s possession statistics tell most of the story. Against Limerick on Sunday in the Gaelic Grounds, two of Tipp’s most active players were John O’Dwyer and Seamus Callanan, both operating in the full-forward line.

Callanan returned 2-3 from play and O’Dwyer had six points, including two beauties from narrow angles. Their direct opponents, Richie McCarthy and Seamus Hickey had the toughest of afternoons attempting to curtail the influence of this dynamic duo.

I wrote Saturday that ‘inside forwards rely on the outside players to supply the necessary ball, preferably when they’re in good positions’.

This was one of the main differences between the Munster semi-finalists. Ruling the middle third, Tipp’s outfield players provided quality deliveries putting the inside players in possession in advantageous positions.

Even though Limerick had the exact same possession as their opponents, they failed to provide their forwards with a supply to create the necessary goal chances.

Tipp manager Eamon O’Shea had learned from last year’s defeat to Limerick. They abandoned their traditional line-out with Niall O’Meara, picked at corner-forward, operating around the half-forward line very effectively and Brendan Maher, on the programme at centre-forward, playing a crucial role as a third midfielder.

Limerick never came to grips with this strategy in the first half when the damage was done. Corner-back Stephen Walsh was left as a spare defender with no specific role, marking space. It’s all very well to mark space when the ball is in the opposing half-back line as reading long deliveries is relatively easy. But it is imperative that opponents are marked tightly when possession is gained in their half-forward line.

I have always made the point that space has never scored and Limerick’s full-backs positioned themselves poorly at times making life a little easier for the Premier attack. Midway through the first half, Limerick’s defence was under severe pressure. Tipp played very little long ball from their defence into the centre-back’s zone, a smart tactic.

Rather than leave Walsh taking care of space, Limerick might have assigned him to follow O’Meara, switching Tom Condon back on O’Dwyer and introducing Wayne MacNamara to combat the impressive Bonner Maher. In turn, Gavin O Mahony could have gone to the wing on Jason Forde with Seamus Hickey double-teaming or playing directly in front of Callanan.

Moving Donal O’Grady into midfield and Cian Lynch to the wing might also have been beneficial for the Treaty men. They were ‘bleeding profusely’ at the time and the first requirement at that stage was to stem the flow.

Tipp keeper Darren Gleeson hit his first nine puck-outs short and accurate to defensive colleagues. Limerick lost eight of their first ten, the last five on the bounce.

Tipperary moved the ball forward intelligently from defence to attack with precise passing, meeting very little real tough opposition. Limerick’s workrate wasn’t up to the required standard and this will have disappointed their management hugely. The two first-half goals provide great examples of the disparity in work-rate.

Goal one came when Limerick defender Stephen Walsh was isolated without support by a swarm of Tipp forwards, something we didn’t see from Limerick. Dispossessed by Niall O’Meara, a simple ball over the top, something Tipp have been working hard on this year, set ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer free. He knocked it first time to Callanan who finished strongly.

The move for the second goal began back in the right corner of the Tipp defence with the dispossession of Graeme Mulcahy. Padraic Maher waltzed out untouched with the ball. When Brendan Maher fielded the subsequent delivery, three Limerick players were in the vicinity but none were marking Maher. His delivery was missed by full-back McCarthy who had done the hard work by getting out in front.

However, he should have gone for the safer option of blocking the ball with his hurley instead of attempting to catch. Callanan slipped in behind and shot low past ‘keeper Barry Hennessy, who should have come a further metre forward.

Limerick did have a good spell just after half-time when their work-rate improved significantly. Cian Lynch, who had been watched closely by Paddy Stapleton, Micky Cahill and Conor O’Brien in turn saw more ball as he roamed outfield. Shane Dowling scored a penalty and after 13 minutes Limerick were only a point behind. However, two quick Tipp points put them back in charge and they scoring 2-11 to Limerick’s 0-2 from there to the finish.

Knowing how hard they work, I know this will have been a chastening experience for the Limerick players and management.

However, the qualifier draw against Westmeath has been very kind to them. It affords them the opportunity to regroup and restore some confidence and build some momentum for the summer ahead.

Tipp manager Eamon O’Shea is now in a great position. His team performed well yesterday but some sloppiness and poor support play crept in just after half-time. They lost five of the first six puck-outs (all long) after half-time and there is enough to work on there to dispel any overconfidence for the Munster final. O’Shea got his planning spot on against Limerick.

Waterford provide a more mobile challenge up front and have a tight hard-working defence. It remains to be seen if Tipp can crack their code.


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