Friday 24 March 2017

O'Sullivan: Everything needs to go right for Limerick's underdogs

Kieran McCarthy

IT'S a challenge that is far easier said than done. Just ask Mickey Ned O'Sullivan. He knows it only too well. While defeating Kerry sounds straightforward in theory, it's putting it into practice that causes problems.

As a schoolteacher, O'Sullivan is alive to the gaping chasm that exists between a conceived idea and reality. Take last year's Munster final as an example.

The then Limerick manager believed he had the game plan to stun his native Kerry in Killarney, only to come up agonisingly short.

But having left the Treaty County after five memorable years, O'Sullivan will watch on tomorrow evening when Kerry and Limerick clash in a Munster semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds.

And having plotted against Jack O'Connor's Kerry in the past, O'Sullivan knows what needs to happen for Limerick to finally get achieve that elusive breakthrough win this weekend.

"Everything needs to go right for Limerick. Everything," the former Kerry manager explains.

"Limerick need to pressurise the Kerry backs, they need to win ball around the middle of the field, they need to create space up front for their own forwards and exploit a possible lack of pace in the Kerry defence.

"On the other hand, they need to be very solid in their own defence when they close down space and their midfield must be very mobile in order to help out the defence and yet, at the same time, support their half-forwards and give quick ball into space.

"It sounds very simple in theory. But Limerick have to put pressure on the Kerry backs to stop them setting up attacks. You have to try and nip them in the bud, because when Kerry get possession they are lethal.

"They make maximum use of minimum possession."

O'Sullivan's Limerick came desperately close in Killarney last year, before being edged out 1-17 to 1-14, but their former boss is sanguine about their chances of improving on that result tomorrow.

"You have to be very realistic here. Over the past five years, the All-Ireland champions have come out of Munster every season apart from one, when Tyrone beat Kerry. Otherwise, it's always either Kerry or Cork," O'Sullivan says.

"If Limerick were in any other province they would have won a provincial title by this stage. It's unfortunate that they are trying to break through when Kerry and Cork are at their very best.

"It's nothing to do with the Limerick mindset or their belief, it's just that Limerick are coming up against better teams that have the experience and the knowledge of winning."

Praising the character and never-say-die spirit of his former charges, O'Sullivan does admit that the odds are stacked against Limerick tomorrow.

"Limerick face a very difficult challenge. If you look at all known form, then Limerick are up against it. Kerry are a wounded animal after what happened last season. Their pride was hurt," reflects the former All-Ireland winning Kerry captain.

"They are coming at this championship fresh. They are pushing on in age too so they want to make the most of the time that they have left, before more of them retire."

If Limerick could pull off a famous win, the football landscape on Shannonside would be transformed, O'Sullivan feels.

"People have no idea what it would mean to Limerick and what it would mean to football in Munster," he says.

"If Limerick made the breakthrough, it would help expose the game to a new audience. It would help sow the seeds of Gaelic football in Limerick city, where there is a population of 80,000 and there isn't a 2pc penetration level of Gaelic football.

"There are so many people working tirelessly in GAA clubs in Limerick, and all they need is one win to make all that hard work worthwhile."

But, again, that one win sounds a lot easier in theory than in practice. Just ask Limerick.

Irish Independent

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