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3 reasons why Limerick can be cheerful and Tipperary can be fearful

Here’s what we learned from yesterday’s clash at the Gaelic Grounds

Image: INPHO/James Crombie

LIMERICK

Strength in depth

When Limerick blew a five-point lead against Tipperary in Thurles in last year’s Munster quarter-final, John Allen bemoaned a lack of strength in depth. But when he needed them most, the cavalry arrived in the final 20 minutes to get the job done yesterday.

Shane Dowling scored two points when he was introduced, with Niall Moran, Cathal King and Kevin Downes brought on in the final ten minutes. Allen raised eyebrows with his team selection ahead of the game, with Dowling and Downes omitted from the starting line-up. But Allen’s decision to leave the former Árdscoil Rís pupils on the bench was fully justified. And there was another massive boost for the former Cork manager on Sunday night when Donal Óg Cusack lavished praise on his skills as a psychological man-manager.

Limerick now have a first Munster final since 2007 to look forward to – and Allen has a panel of players champing at the bit to be involved.

No fear of Tipperary

Traditionally, Limerick have had no fear of Tipperary. The Premier County were 2-9 favourites with the bookmakers yesterday but they’ve rarely had it easy against the neighbours. Tipp may have knocked 6-19 past Limerick in the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final but the Shannonsiders produced a performance laced with passion and intensity to record a first championship victory over Tipperary since 2007. Down the spine of the team, Limerick had heroes as Richie McCarthy and Wayne McNamara brilliantly anchored the central defensive positions, with Donal O’Grady exceptional at midfield. James Ryan worked incredibly hard as an auxiliary midfielder, before Kevin Downes replaced him late on, and Declan Hannon showed incredible leadership as his nine-point haul set the tone up front.

Plenty of room for improvement

There may be some more tinkering with the Limerick team ahead of the Munster final on 14 July. John Allen is a thinking man’s manager and he’ll analyse yesterday’s game to see where his team can improve. Perhaps Allen will feel that a deeper-lying player can hit the long-range frees, instead of asking Declan Hannon to trot out from full-forward when he might be better placed on the edge of the square when they’re being pumped in. Allen had his tactics spot on to cope with Tipperary and defensively, the Shannonsiders were excellent. Tipp’s six starting forwards managed just 0-5 from play between them and while sub John O’Dwyer caused big problems from Limerick when he came on, the Treaty men rallied from four points down and outscored the visitors by 0-9 to 0-2 in the final twenty minutes. And the nature of this win was reminiscent of that famous day in 1996, when Ciaran Carey lashed over THAT point against Clare.

The Tipperary team leave the field dejected. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

TIPPERARY

Lack of firepower

This was supposed to be the day when Tipperary announced themselves as a serious championship force, in their first outing since last August’s 18-point defeat to Kilkenny at Croke Park. But the attack failed to function as Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, Shane Bourke and Seamus Callanan all finished scoreless from play. It took the introduction of John O’Dwyer at half-time to spark Tipperary into life and the Killenaule man scored 1-3 on his championship debut to push himself firmly into the picture for a starting place in the qualifiers.

But the brilliant movement that was a hallmark of Tipp when Eamon O’Shea was coach in 2010 was sadly lacking. And O’Shea will be concerned by the lack of workrate up front; with Limerick comfortably repelling Tipperary attacks when the game was in the melting pot. Tipp’s chronic inability to win clean possession in the final 20 minutes provided Limerick with the platform to claim victory.

The form of key players

Shane Bourke, Pa Bourke, Seamus Callanan, captain Shane McGrath and Brendan Maher were called ashore before the final whistle. Maher limped off injured but the four players that went off before him were removed for tactical and form reasons. Shane McGrath was entrusted with the team captaincy before the season began but the Ballinahinch clubman has struggled this year.

Brendan Maher worked incredibly hard at midfield but McGrath was off colour and it is understood that he was suffering with illness in the days leading up to the game. McGrath, an Allstar in 2008, is now sweating on his starting position ahead of the qualifiers, as Eamon O’Shea looks certain to shuffle his deck. John O’Dwyer looks certain to nail down a starting place and that could leave Pa Bourke and Shane Bourke on the outside looking in, with Jason Forde certain to make his championship debut next time out after missing yesterday’s game through illness.

Struggling with the weight of expectation

Tipp were expected to make a big championship statement in Limerick yesterday. The bookies received a flood of bets on the Premier County to win, and win comfortably, at the Gaelic Grounds but Tipp must now regroup through the back door for the first time since 2010. Declan Ryan’s tenure in charge ended in embarrassing fashion against Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final but the three-time All-Ireland SHC medallist can claim two successive Munster championship victories. Eamon O’Shea was the choice of the players to take over and when Tipp were competitive in last month’s League final against Kilkenny, a big championship summer was anticipated. The scrappy nature of the Clare-Waterford semi-final encouraged provided Tipp fans with the belief that this would be their year again in the province. But Tipp fell flat in O’Shea’s first championship game in charge and he now finds himself plotting a course through the back door, as was the case when he was coach in 2010. Then, Tipp recovered from a ten-point defeat against Cork to finish the season as All-Ireland champions but the road back this time looks more difficult.

John Allen, Eamonn O’Shea and Richie McCarthy on their Munster SHC showdown

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About the author:

Jackie Cahill

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