Treaty can correct faults but Cats should squeak through
Published 09/08/2014 | 02:30
If frustration could be channelled into the electric grid, the Limerick dressing-room after last year's All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Clare would have generated enough wattage to light up the county for the winter.
Losing a big game always comes with disappointment and regret, but it gradually wears off if the defeat was purely on its merits and simply down to one team being better than the other.
There's a completely different feeling when you lose without coming anywhere close to performing to full capacity.
It eats away at you for a long time, especially when it's a knock-out game as opposed to a provincial championship tie, when an early relaunch is available.
Limerick lost to Clare by seven points last year and by six points to Cork in this year's Munster final, but, while the margins were quite similar, there was no comparison in their mindset afterwards.
Limerick bombed against Clare – there's no other way of putting it. Hardly a single facet of their game came close to delivering to full potential as players who had done so well against Cork in the Munster final looked as if they were coming together for the first time.
Limerick's defeat by Cork in this year's Munster final was different. Yes, they lost but there were identifiable reasons, specifically a failure to convert more of their chances during their dominant spell in the first half.
That's the sort of fault that can be corrected – as, indeed, it was against Wexford the next time out. You could tell by TJ Ryan's body language and comments after the Cork game that he felt the season was salvageable and, now that Limerick are back in Croke Park for a second successive semi-final, it's a great chance to make amends for last year.
It's very close to being the same team, so they know what to expect from the occasion and, indeed, the opposition. Kilkenny's template is pretty much the same as it always has been under Brian Cody, where responsibility is placed on the individual rather than on the system.
Individuals shape the system in Kilkenny off the simple, but very effective principle, that if enough players win their own ball and use it well, a win will follow.
Cody has acknowledged that Kilkenny's league success this year was achieved off a higher fluency level than last season and that has certainly carried through into the championship.
They kept on the direct route this year, regaining the Leinster title as impressively as at any time in over the last 15 years.
With the exception of the last 10 minutes against Galway in the drawn game, they weren't really tested, which suggests one of two things. They are either back on the peaks of the past decade or the opposition wasn't all that good.
It's probably a combination of both, but, whatever the source, Kilkenny have rediscovered their inner destroyer.
Not that Limerick will be easily grounded. Their brand of hurling – direct and physical – is well-suited to testing Kilkenny, both down the wings and, even more importantly, through the middle.
Ryan won't have Limerick playing off convoluted tactical systems, concentrating instead on their traditional strengths.
They struggled at times in the half-back line in the Munster final, with Paudie O'Brien and Gavin O'Mahony getting their angles wrong on a few occasions, allowing Cork to pick off some scores.
In fairness, they were much better against Wexford, but they're back in against the very best now, so it's an area Limerick must get right.
Up front, Limerick need to be more goal-minded. If the half-chance comes, they have to go for it. Taking a point is all very well but three points is much better.
Besides, goal chances are relatively scarce, so when they come along in any guise, you've got to be bold. That's certainly the case against Kilkenny, who will go for goals off quarter-chances.
Kilkenny used to have the advantage of their reputation getting into opposition heads, but that's not nearly as prevalent now.
So while Limerick know all about Kilkenny's capabilities, they won't be in awe of them as was probably the case when they clashed in the 2007 All-Ireland final and even in the quarter-final two years ago.
Richie Bennis once told me that there were around 16,000 people in Limerick who would get behind the team at the slightest sign of improvement.
There's far more when things are going really well, so Limerick will bring a huge following to Croke Park.
I'd expect them to see a vastly improved performance on last year, which will underpin a massive effort.
Limerick are certainly not without a chance, but, when all the pieces are put together, Kilkenny's picture looks a little clearer. It shows a narrow win.
TIME TO UP PRESSURE FOR ANTHEM RESPECT
I got a big reaction to comments here last Saturday on how unsightly it is to see hurlers wearing helmets during the playing of the national anthem.
I'm told that match regulations stipulate helmets should not be worn during the national anthem or the parade. Obviously, the regulations are being ignored and counties are paying the fines.
If that's the case, then it's time to increase the fines so that managers and county boards put pressure on players to leave off the helmets for a few minutes before a game.
How hard can it be?
Club game deserves to be treated right
Full marks to Tipperary for playing a round of senior club hurling championship games last weekend, a fortnight before their All-Ireland semi-final clash with Cork.
Kilkenny and Cork are always good at keeping their club championship ticking along while the county team are in the championship but several others lock up shop until their All-Ireland race is run.
Naturally, county team managers want as much time as possible with exclusive access to the squad but the club game has to be treated right too. Besides, getting back among their club colleagues is good for players.
As for dual action, Jimmy Barry-Murphy was one of the best in the business and would always be happy to accommodate current Cork players if they wanted to play both codes.
However, I'm sure he wasn't overly disappointed to see Cork footballers beaten last Sunday as it cleared the way for Aidan Walsh, Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan to concentrate totally on the hurling at the most important part of the season.
As for those who claimed Walsh was making a mistake to branch into hurling this year, the season has proved otherwise. Indeed, he is one of the reasons why Cork's All-Ireland prospects have been enhanced.