Time for Limerick players to take next step – O'Brien
THE ingredients are there for a winning recipe, Limerick's Paudie O'Brien insists.
The age profile is right and last year's Munster championship success has whetted the appetite for more. After the All-Ireland semi-final, they are better equipped to handle the big day.
True, there have been some off-field distractions with Donal O'Grady's departure, but O'Brien insists there will be no excuses when they travel to Semple Stadium to take on Tipp on Sunday. Either they'll be good enough or they won't, he says.
"At the start, when you go in at 18 or 19, the thrill of being an inter-county player is all you're there for. But as you get older you grow out of that naivety a bit and you're there to win and not just compete any more," explains the 24-year-old Kilmallock clubman.
"None of the Limerick lads are just there to compete any more, and you can be sure that the Tipp lads are also thinking only about winning. Our team growing up, you had Nickie Quaid, Paul Browne, and Sean Tobin, who are all the same age.
"We're still around and we're all coming into our fourth and fifth years on the panel. There's no excuse about being too young any more. We all have to step up and that's that."
They'll swim against the tide of history. It's 1973 since they won in Thurles, though admittedly meetings have been scarce.
Tipp have won 33 of 65 championship encounters, with Limerick coming out on top in 22 games, but perhaps more significant is the Treaty's recent record, which gives them a slight edge. Last year's win in the Gaelic Grounds was their third win in their last five encounters.
"Traditionally we love playing Tipp," O'Brien says. "Again, we were probably coming off a very bad league campaign last year. There was no talk about us last year and this year it's probably the same but Tipp are a bit more wary.
"It was a fair atmosphere in the Gaelic Grounds last year. They're an experienced group of lads and I don't think they were intimidated or anything. We just got a purple patch and it was just too much for them on the day. It's going to be a totally different game the next day, I've no doubt about that."
Limerick have been front and centre since the end of the league but for all the wrong reasons. O'Grady's abrupt departure did a lot to push Limerick out to as far as 3/1 to win on Sunday, while Cork's experience last weekend suggests it might take a while for a Division 1B team to adapt to the pace of the game.
Limerick have tried to bridge the gap in recent weeks, playing top-tier opposition Dublin and Galway in challenge games.
"Every year we are trying to get out of that league. This year was very disappointing because we had it in our own hands. From an outsider's point of view it might look like every year is the same thing," says O'Brien.
"We felt we underachieved at the end and it was lack of concentration more than anything and that is what the killer thing is.
"If we win no one will talk about the league. If we lose everyone will blame the league."
Everything is in place then. For a team that captured one of the major prizes last summer, they departed the season with an empty feeling after losing to Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final.
"We don't really look back on last year but if we did I know a lot of lads would look at it as an opportunity lost rather than anything gained," O'Brien says.
"It was very nice to win what we did and it is something you'll cherish but we feel we let ourselves down in the semi-final. This is an ambitious group of lads and they want to keep driving on.
"But if we are not at our best we aren't going to come out of Thurles with a result."