Cyril Farrell: Limerick gamble but the odds still favour a Tipperary team closing in on big-time glory
Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30
Over the last five Munster Championships, Limerick are the only team to have beaten Tipperary, a fact that both will recall for different reasons as they head for Semple Stadium tomorrow.
For Tipperary, it's a reminder that when Limerick hit the right mood and tempo they are a mighty powerful outfit and very difficult to tame.
For Limerick, their record against Tipp (last year apart) is a confidence booster, a cue for taking them on with steel, ferocity and plenty of self-belief.
When Limerick get their game going, they love playing Tipperary, imposing their own brand of dogged defiance with maximum impact.
They did it in 2013 and 2014, beating the odds and Tipp with performances which left their supporters daring to dream that the really good times were imminent.
They enjoyed some success in 2013, winning the Munster title before undoing a lot of the good with a very poor performance against Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final.
And when Clare went on to win the All-Ireland, it took the gloss of Limerick's Munster title as their neighbours had won the much bigger prize. That wasn't easy to take, especially since Limerick had facilitated Clare's advance with their semi-final surrender.
A year later, Limerick beat Tipperary again but lost to Cork in the Munster final before returning through the back door and reaching the All-Ireland semi-final, where they came very close to dislodging Kilkenny.
It was supposed to be the start of something big but it didn't turn out that way.
Limerick beat Clare last year but the season ran away from them after that.
This year has been a mixed bag, losing out to Clare in the Division 1B promotion race, beating Dublin in the League quarter-final and losing quite heavily in the end to Waterford in the semi-final.
All of which means that they are heading into the Championship without knowing exactly where they stand, which is always a concern for any team.
Tipperary are in more settled mode. They were desperately disappointed to lose to Galway last August but the nature of the defeat - by a single point in the game of the year - suggested there wasn't a whole lot wrong with Tipp's overall structure.
I don't go with the theory that because Tipperary have lost quite a lot of games by a point or two in recent years, it's a sign of mental weakness.
It's very easy to pin that label on a team and, believe me, I know. Remember the Galway team in the second half of the 1980s?
We lost two successive All-Ireland finals, a League final, a Railway Cup final (as Connacht) and an Oireachtas Cup final in 1985-86 and were told we were chokers who would never win anything.
Yet, from 1987-89, we won two All-Irelands, two Leagues, two Railway Cups and two Oireachtas titles with largely the same panel. All it took was one breakthrough to change everything. It could be the same for Tipp.
I have always held the view that if you put yourselves in a position to win big games often enough, your break will come.
So if I were Michael Ryan, I'd turn Tipp's close calls of recent years into a real positive, emphasising it as a sign that the big prizes are out there ready to be picked off.
After all, it's better to lose big games by a point or two than not qualify for them in the first place.
TJ Ryan has shaken things up for tomorrow, which is the right way to go. Of course only time will tell if it works but it's worth a try. Limerick have had very good underage teams in recent years so it makes sense to give the young talent a shot at the big time.
It will be interesting to see if Ryan follows the growing trend of playing with a sweeper.
He might be tempted as he will be conscious of the need to curb Seamus Callanan, in particular. Callanan caused Limerick all sorts of problems last year and showed that he was back to his best form in an excellent performance against Cork last month.
Still, I'm not so sure this sweeper business suits Limerick. It takes time to get it right and they haven't used it a whole lot.
Anyway, Limerick have always had a hit-and-whip style, and while it can be refined to suit particular games, it's in the county's DNA.
Interfering with it is risky, especially at this stage of the season. In any event, if they play straight up tomorrow, Tipp will do the same since it's the way they like to go too.
The big question for Tipp this season is whether they are - or will be - better than last season. Winning Munster is no longer good enough, as Michael Ryan knows well. It's all about the All-Ireland now.
Tipperary certainly have a lot going for them, not just with their starting 15 but also on the subs' bench, which is so important in the modern game.
Ronan Maher is developing into the player we all knew he would alongside his brother Padraic in the half-back line. Michael Breen is bringing a nice balance to midfield alongside Brendan Maher, and John McGrath is progressing rapidly in attack.
Tipp would have benefited from a stiffer test against Cork but it never materialised.
Still, it was a Championship outing, whereas Limerick are having their first game since the League semi-final defeat by Waterford.
They have won two of their last three Championship clashes with Tipperary but I can't see them making it three out of four.