BEFORE I discuss the Clare-Limerick match, I’d like to talk about something else; do the people who decide on these venues need geography lessons?
The Munster championship game that should have been in Thurles, Clare-Waterford, was held in Limerick; the game that should have been held in Limerick - tomorrow’s semi-final - is in Thurles.
What’s going on? Do these people not realise that Thurles is about halfway between Clare and Waterford, and so would have been a fairer venue for Waterford instead of Limerick? Do they not realise that the Gaelic Grounds is as near to Clare as it is to Limerick? I’d say most Clare hurling fans are nearer the Gaelic Grounds than most Limerick fans. What sort of nonsense is this? The road to Thurles is going to be fairly clogged tomorrow morning, that’s for sure. I know there will be a fair few Limerick people coming from the Tipperary side, but most supporters will be going the one road – I wonder if any of those who decided to fix this for Thurles will be caught up in that traffic?
Economically it would have been fairer on both sets of fans to have the game in Limerick, not to mention the business it would have brought to the city. When the Clare/Waterford match was set for Limerick the fans stayed away – maybe the same thing will happen tomorrow, though I hope not.
Another amazing thing – this is a local derby, so much traditional rivalry between Clare and Limerick, yet I’ve hardly seen a green-and-white flag in any of the border parishes, nor saffron-and-blue. Plenty of Munster rugby red, but what’s happening to the GAA rivalries?
Is the spark going out of the Munster championship? If Clare and Limerick don’t do something to spice up this year’s fare, we’re in trouble. Tipp and Cork was a curate’s egg, good in parts, while Clare and Waterford was over long before the final whistle – we need a big match now.
Both teams need to throw off the shackles, let it rip, have a cut. Express yourselves in a manly way, in a Munster championship-style way; don’t be afraid, don’t be paralysed. Entertain us.
People have been raving about Euro 2008 for the past couple of weeks, how the players are enjoying a new freedom of expression – let’s have the same in Semple Stadium. With that in mind, hopefully the ref won’t be too whistle-happy.
The match? I don’t think Limerick got enough credit last year for their All-Ireland semi-final win over Waterford. People said Waterford were tired after their two-game battle with Cork – I don’t agree with that. Limerick were simply the better team, and I also believe that if Limerick had Damien Reale in the Munster final they’d have beaten Waterford there too. He’d have made a huge difference in that game.
This year Limerick must build on what they got last year; the league meant nothing to them, as was obvious from the way they approached it. They want to get back to Croke Park, and that journey starts tomorrow.
Expectation in the county is high, and rightly so. One worry for them though is the loss of Brian Geary at centre-back. He was a massive player for them last year, but is still a few weeks away from recovering from his cruciate injury. I hear people saying, ‘Limerick needed to find new players and didn’t’ - but maybe they didn’t need to find them in the first place, maybe they have those players in their ranks all along.
Now is the time for the likes of Donncha Sheehan, Paudie O’Dwyer and Seán O’Connor to step forward. Limerick have made a good move in shifting Seamus Hickey to wing-back, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if he finishes the game in the centre.
I don’t think their forwards will line out as selected; don’t be surprised to see Niall Moran at full-forward and Seán O’Connor on the wing. Limerick need a big game from Ollie Moran, and I think they’ll get it. He always seems to play well in championship, and especially in Thurles.
Then you have the man in the middle who was nearly an All-Star last year, Donal O’Grady – he must have a big game as well, as must Mike O’Brien beside him.
Clare? I’m looking at that backline and despite the way it’s lined out, I’d be very surprised if they break up the half-back line that did so well against Waterford. Brendan Bugler was outstanding at wing-back that day and is now in the corner, but I’d leave him where he was.
The big question from the nine-point win over Waterford, were Clare that good or Waterford that bad? Well, the forwards scored 2-26 but they got massive room from the Waterford defence – the Limerick backs won’t be so generous.
Will the midfielders, Colin Lynch and Brian O’Connell, have it as easy against O’Brien and O’Grady? I don’t think so.
This will be a huge physical battle; Clare have big men all over the field, in every line, but Limerick have their share of big men also. On fitness they’re evenly matched, the same with experience, and while Thurles is a different pitch to the Gaelic Grounds, both teams thrive there.
I heard a Limerick man and a Tipperary man recently discussing where the Munster final will be held – did they think Clare are going to lie down here? I don’t think so. There is huge pressure on Limerick to drive on from last year.
How will it end? I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a replay but I just think that Limerick, having lost two finals last year (Munster and the All-Ireland), have more to lose. They might just edge it.
More than anything else though I just wish both teams stand up and give this a lash. A repeat of ‘96 would do very nicely!
Munster semi-final tickets
TICKETS for tomorrow’s Munster SHC semi-final are still available for sale through Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Adult and juvenile stand tickets will be available to purchase, while stocks last, tomorrow from 12 noon at ticket outlets around the grounds, including Dr Morris Park (Kinnane Stand/Killinan Terrace corner), Sarsfield Pitch (Kinnane Stand/Town Terrace corner) and Handball Centre (Ó Riain Stand/Town Terrace corner).
Terrace tickets only will be available from the ticket office at the Borrisoleigh Road entrance (Ó Riain Stand/Killinan Terrace corner).
Supporters are advised that fully automated turnstiles will be in use at the Kinnane Stand for the first time in the newly-developed Semple Stadium, which is the first stadium in Ireland to use such technology.
Ticket holders will be able to scan their tickets and gain entry to the Kinnane stand automatically.
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