Tuesday 20 August 2019

John Mullane: 'Kiely's ravenous Limerick side know what it takes to complete treble of titles'

Tom Morrissey of Limerick is shouldered over the sideline by Brendan Maher and Sean O'Brien of Tipperary during the recent Munster SHC round five match at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Tom Morrissey of Limerick is shouldered over the sideline by Brendan Maher and Sean O'Brien of Tipperary during the recent Munster SHC round five match at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

John Mullane

If Sunday doesn’t have the hairs standing on the back of your neck, then you should head to the doctor and get checked out.

What a bumper day we have in store with a sold-out Munster final and a massive crowd expected in Croke Park for the Leinster and Joe McDonagh Cup finals.

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While lifting Liam MacCarthy is the ultimate goal, winning provincial silverware is cherished by those few who achieve it and success will have major knock-on effects for the four counties involved this year.

The Liam Sheedy factor is alive and kicking and Tipperary have been the best team of the summer, but for all their free-flowing hurling, they are still in the same position as Limerick.

And at that, the Premier are at a disadvantage travelling to the LIT Gaelic Grounds to face the All-Ireland champions without the services of the brilliant Patrick 'Bonner' Maher.

A cruciate knee ligament injury robs Tipp of the irreplaceable 'Bonner', who is a bit like Waterford’s Michael 'Brick' Walsh. He possesses all the attributes that make a team tick and their attack will be disturbed greatly in his absence.

Three to four weeks was the prognosis for Cathal Barrett's hamstring injury, but could he feature tomorrow to pick up Aaron Gillane? If he doesn't win his fitness race, there is no ready-made replacement for a defender of his calibre.

It's only when he's not playing that we appreciate just how good he is and outside of Pádraic Maher, he's their most important defender. He’s the glue that holds the full-back line together.

This is the ultimate test for Tipp as you feel Limerick will bring a lot more to the table than they did two weeks ago in Thurles when they looked to be in learning mode and going at half speed.

Tipp will not have good memories of their last two visits to Limerick – their league defeat in February was preceded by last year’s Munster round-robin clash which set John Kiely's men on the way to a sensational summer.

The contrasts between the Tipp of 2018 and now under Sheedy are chalk and cheese, however, and he has them oozing confidence. They have that swagger of 2010 and 2016 again.

The seamless movement of the Tipp forward unit is back to its best and while many doubted whether he could work the oracle again, Sheedy has them playing out of their skins.

Munster successes under Sheedy in 2008 and ’09 – the first of which came at the expense of Clare a tomorrow’s venue – set the foundations for what followed in 2010 and another victory would be the ideal pathway to the Holy Grail.

For Kiely to land a Munster title, especially on home soil, would be magical and it would crown a remarkable run to have league, provincial and All-Ireland titles at the same time.

He has made no bones about their thirst for Munster honours – a medal which most of them don’t have – and victory tomorrow would recreate those extraordinary scenes from six years ago.

After eyeing them up the last day, they know the levels required to topple Tipp and the expected returns of Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty and Graeme Mulcahy will strengthen their hand significantly.

Liam Sheedy. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy. Photo: Sportsfile

Limerick will be far more ravenous in the tackle and get in the faces of Tipp. They allowed them to play the ball around too easily and there will surely be a plan to curb Pádraic Maher.

He simply won't be afforded that same freedom, while Sheedy will no doubt aim to nullify the effects of the returning Hannon (right) as both players act like quarterbacks and drive their sides forward from the back.

It will come down to which defence is more secure and the loss of Barrett could be the difference. It's Limerick to win narrowly and secure their 20th Munster title.

The Leinster final is another rematch from two weeks ago and more of the same can be expected between Wexford and Kilkenny with a hugely physical battle and both sides playing through the lines where possible.

It's D-Day for Wexford as they search for their first Bob O'Keeffe Cup since 2004 and a coveted place in the last four, but can Wexford’s system remain as effective in the wide open spaces of Croke Park?

It's at this stage, and in these big arenas, where it has come up short at the vital stages in recent years and this is where the real questions will be asked.

They are a far fresher outfit compared to the last two years of Davy Fitzgerald's reign and the appetite for success in the sunny south-east could see anything up to 40,000 Wexford supporters descending on Jones’s Road.

The experience of two years ago will stand them in good stead and Davy Fitz could further cement his legacy as a Leinster title would mean every major trophy at senior inter-county level has been achieved by the Clare native.

Beating the Cats at GAA HQ is a totally different proposition to beating them in Wexford Park, however, and you just wonder if TJ Reid can be kept as quiet again from play.

Matthew O'Hanlon will pick him up again but I've a funny feeling that Brian Cody might shuffle the deck and try to take him out of his comfort zone by putting Reid at the edge of the square at various stages.

Davy will be aware that Kilkenny's defenders picked them off for scores the last day through the evolution of Kilkenny's style of play and he will be keen to stop the likes of Conor Fogarty striding forward.

Their previous meeting will have done the likes of Joey Holden, Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh the world of good as it handed them important game-time while Adrian Mullen came of age with a remarkable display.

Lee Chin soloing away from Kilkenny’s Paddy Deegan
Lee Chin soloing away from Kilkenny’s Paddy Deegan

Cody must be the only manager who can take a lad off before half-time and get a man-of-the-match performance out of him the next day. It's an unbelievable trait for a truly remarkable man.

If that happened in any other county, it would shatter a lad's confidence and players in Mullen's situation wouldn't be seen for the rest of the year – his head would be in the bin.

A player would nearly fall out with the manager but that's the genius of Cody; he can take them from rock bottom one week to their brilliant best the next week and he deserves huge credit for fostering that never-say-die attitude in players.

Kilkenny are learning how to play around the sweeper rather than trying to play through him as we’ve seen in the past. They’re playing through the lines now rather than going long and hoping for the best and it’s paying dividends.

If the Cats were to win, it would leave them with just two wars to fight to win Liam MacCarthy back and they would fancy their chances in an All-Ireland semi-final with Leinster honours under their belt.

The match-ups will be key with Davy’s deployment of Lee Chin and Rory O’Connor proving crucial, but it’ll be the likes of Diarmuid O'Keeffe who tip the scales and Cody will surely try to shackle him after his inspired display the last day out, with Fogarty possibly picking him up.

Davy has more options this year and while Aidan Nolan's suspension will be a loss, and Damien Reck looks like missing out with a hamstring injury, Wexford stand on the edge of a famous success.

But when it's all said and done, I expect the Kilkenny attack of Colin Fennelly, Reid, Mullen, Walsh, Ger Aylward and Billy Ryan to really step up their game and the wide open spaces should help narrowly overcome the Wexford system.

The McDonagh Cup final precedes the main course in Croke Park, but the disastrous scheduling means that most people will have their eyes on the mother and father of all battles in the Munster final at the same time.

It’s forgotten about and that's serious food for thought for the GAA. On the pitch, Laois have really impressed this season under Eddie Brennan and have the firepower to edge out Westmeath.

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