'Limerick don't seem to have a plan A, B or C'
Treaty legend Cregan feels Ryan is betraying county’s history with Cork-style short game, writes Michael Verney
Based on all available form, All-Ireland winner Eamonn Cregan isn't expecting Limerick to defeat old rivals Clare tonight as they battle with an identity crisis which he feels could stunt the development of their promising young stars.
It's 20 years since Ciarán Carey broke Banner hearts, ending their All-Ireland reign, with a last-gasp winner which has gone down in GAA folklore, but Cregan can't envisage similar scenes in Semple Stadium against the current league champions.
The Treaty legend detests their style of play under TJ Ryan, believing its origins to have come from Munster rivals Cork, and he feels they are betraying their history, and not getting the best out of their impressive squad, by playing in that manner.
"No," he says sharply when asked whether the short game suits their players. "That is a Cork game that was developed by Newtownshandrum with the O'Connors. It was taken on by Donal O'Grady and Cork won a few All-Irelands with it.
"Then it was transposed into Limerick. It is not our game and it has never been our game and I cannot see the point in a man running 50 yards up the field on a solo run blindly with his head down and being dispossessed and the ball going down field.
"It's time Limerick got back to what they always did, their style of game from years ago which was to move the ball fast into the full-forward line. If I was playing corner-forward now I wouldn't last piddling time in this particular era.
"I'd get frustrated because you never know when the ball is coming in. The short game is not the game for Limerick. We've got to minor finals, U-21 finals and intermediate finals playing a different game so why change it now?
"Why change to a short passing game which was suitable to Cork at the time but is not suitable to Limerick? And I have to ask why do we need five passes out of defence to clear a ball up to the forwards?"
Cregan, who led Mary Immaculate College to their maiden Fitzgibbon Cup earlier this year, feels that Limerick's talented U-21 All-Ireland-winning side could go by the wayside like their predecessors from the three-in-a-row-winning team of 2000-02 if something doesn't change.
"They're being told this is the way you must play - hurling is not like that. If you watch Kilkenny it's so simple, they're aggressive in defence, they attack whenever they can, they move into space but they move the ball fast," he says.
"What we have in Limerick, and I don't accept it, is that every manager that comes in over Limerick plays his game, he doesn't play the Limerick game, he plays his own game. His game is not necessarily the game for Limerick."
The 1994 All-Ireland-winning Offaly boss was appalled by the Treaty's use of the extra man against Tipperary in the Munster semi-final and feels Ryan's position must come under close scrutiny regardless of tonight's result.
"If you give Seamus Callanan space he has the ability to go out and collect the ball, turn and put it over the bar or score a goal and that space wasn't closed off, the full-back was left wide open," says Cregan.
"That comes from the sideline and the sideline should've known about that. TJ's position is under pressure irrespective of this weekend because Limerick have not performed and unfortunately for TJ he has been the one with them.
"You do your best inside as management and selectors, you give the team a plan to go out and play to and then once the players go on the field they must be mentally prepared to do the best they can, but that doesn't seem to be happening.
"We seem to be at sixes and sevens, we don't seem to have a plan, plan A, plan B or plan C. We don't seem to be able to play as a team. My problem is that you have good hurlers, you had good hurlers, but we have not performed up to our ability.
"The best performance Limerick gave was against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2014, they were in Kilkenny's face and they moved the ball quickly, but that game has not been repeated since."
The three-time All-Star forward bemoans Limerick's status in 'Division 2" after several years searching for an escape route and expects Clare to know them inside out ahead of their "do-or-die" showdown.
"Clare will play their own game and impose it on Limerick and if they click and are able to pop points over from out the field then they'll be home and dried, but if Limerick play a different type of game to upset Clare then hopefully there's one performance in them," he says.
"Every Limerick player should be prepared for today and if Limerick players aren't willing to die on that field then they shouldn't be involved."