Premier's better balance makes solid case against erratic Limerick
Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30
And so then, here come Limerick, the last of the 14 contenders to launch their bid for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
They do so as sixth favourites (12/1) behind Kilkenny (13/8), Tipperary (11/4), Waterford (9/2), Galway (7/1) and Clare (9/1) for the title, a rating that features a curiosity which is capable of irritating them, if they allow it.
The top four and Limerick still have two chances each, whereas Clare are in sudden death territory. And yet they are priced considerably shorter for the All-Ireland than Limerick, presumably on the assumption that by 5.30pm tomorrow, TJ Ryan's men will be Qualifier-bound too and not as well-equipped as Clare for the hard road ahead
This is familiar territory for Limerick, the eternal underdogs, who often have a crow to pluck, even on some days when they deliver in style.
After the 2014 dramatic Munster semi-final win over Tipperary, there were references to how they were allegedly disrespected in some quarters.
"A huge driving factor today was the media and what's been said and the disrespect that's been shown to us," said midfielder Paul Browne.
"The media in general - and even our own public in Limerick. Some people are all about you and others want to see you knocked down. We just wanted to prove to everyone, to the hurling nation, that we're not going away."
When Limerick beat Clare in last year's Championship, Shane Dowling had his say, presumably targeting a section of the Limerick support: "They can shout year in, year out about Limerick this and Limerick that and they can tweet all they like and abuse the players all they like. It's not working and the sooner they row in behind us, the better for them."
Manager TJ Ryan continued the offensive after the League quarter-final win over Dublin in April, inviting the media to visit Limerick and "see some of the vultures we have down there".
"There are hidden agendas against the squad and against some of the backroom team too," he said.
Those comments point to an irritability not usually found elsewhere, certainly not to the same degree anyway.
Clearly, it's an internal thing in Limerick, which has created a feeling in the camp that, for some bizarre reason, even some of their own aren't unhappy to see them lose.
Presumably, that generates a special brand of motivation, although not necessarily one that helps the cause. Expressing frustration over how they are regarded won't double-lock the defence or help the attacking side of their game.
Those are match-defining areas that only the squad and management can get right.
Limerick's biggest drawback in recent seasons has been their inconsistency, not just over a period of weeks (contrast the excellence against Tipperary and Cork in the 2013 Munster Championship with the flop against Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final) but also during particular games.
Having battled back from an eight-point deficit against Tipp in last year's Munster semi-final, they trailed by a point after 47 minutes, only to be outscored by 2-11 to 0-2 from there on. Why such a big difference in the same game?
Three weeks later, Limerick hurled brilliantly and led Dublin by eight points after 26 minutes but lost the rest of the game by 1-15 to 0-9 to be beaten by a point.
In the League semi-final in April, they were two points behind Waterford after 43 minutes but were outscored by 3-8 to 1-5 from there on.
Similar to Galway, Limerick bleed very heavily during their down periods. In fact, it often drains the life from them.
Tipperary can be erratic at times too, but not to anything like the same degree. Certainly, they don't leak as much over relatively short periods.
If Limerick can maintain a solid momentum for the full 70 minutes tomorrow, they have a decent chance of repeating the Championship successes they enjoyed against Tipp in 2013 and '14. Otherwise, Tipp will win. On the basis of the last year, the latter seems far more likely.