McCarthy plans to halt aerial assault
BELEAGUERED Limerick hurling boss Justin McCarthy looks set to radically reshape his defence in a desperate attempt to stem the rampant Rebel tide in next Sunday's Munster SHC semi-final.
Some significant positional switches in Limerick's last major challenge match indicate that McCarthy is looking to harden up the spine of his defence, particularly to try to curb the massive influence of the towering Aisake O hAilpin, who played such a major role in Cork's demolition of Tipperary.
The Rebels didn't start Michael Cussen -- the other half of their 'twin towers' -- last time out, but he came off the bench and, if played at centre-forward, gives Cork a huge aerial threat alongside O hAilpin.
There is heavy speculation that the Limerick management will entrust David Breen and Bryan O'Sullivan with new defensive roles, despite the fact that they usually play at half-forward and midfield respectively.
Both were tried out in defence in a recent challenge match in Horeswood when Limerick beat Wexford (3-21 to 0-21), though the Leinster side fielded a different starting 15 in both halves.
Team captain O'Sullivan was sited at centre-back, while Breen was picked at full-back. In Limerick's last league game this season, Breen played at centre-forward, although he does play at centre-back for his club Na Piarsaigh, so defending is not completely new to him. Another regular at half-forward during the league -- Bruff's Paul Browne -- was also given a defensive role against Wexford.
In recent weeks, McCarthy has kept his side busy with a series of challenge matches, which also included wins over Carlow and Laois. But Cork, who racked up 3-15 while dismantling Tipperary, are a completely different prospect.
Limerick's chances are being written off because of the row that has seen most of last year's team refuse to play for the current management, leaving McCarthy to field a massively inexperienced side.
Full-forward Paudie McNamara and Browne both started against Tipperary in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and O'Sullivan, Breen and James O'Brien were also part of last year's panel, but otherwise over half of the team are set to make their championship debuts in the white-hot atmosphere of Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
McCarthy's second-string side suffered some heavy defeats during the National League, which culminated in relegation to Division 2 after a 31- point drubbing by Dublin in the last round.
Cork wrapped up their preparations by beating Offaly 3-22 to 0-16 in a challenge last Sunday, when Cussen started at full-forward and scored a goal.
The game's other significant feature was the sight of Pa Cronin scoring 0-3 from play on his return from a lengthy injury lay-off. Munster Council say they are expecting only between 15,000 to 20,000 next Sunday, yet that looks optimistic given Limerick's problems this year, the fact that it is live on television (TV3) and particularly the fact that the Cork-Kerry SFC replay last Sunday only attracted 23,486.
The corresponding football replay last year brought a crowd of 30,720 to Cork on a Saturday evening and Munster had even included that inter-county SH challenge as a curtain-raiser last Sunday to help swell the numbers.
"Having live TV possibly did not help and neither did the early start (2.0), but we had expected around 25,000," Munster Council PRO Jim Forbes said.
"Cork supporters have had a lot of matches recently and actually turned up in great numbers last Sunday, but we have to also accept the economic times we are living in."