Saturday 19 October 2019

Brendan Cummins: If they forget the past and stop Cork’s flow, this Limerick side has the goods to go all the way


Limerick's Tom Morrissey. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Limerick's Tom Morrissey. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

If we were looking for an insight into the mindset of this Limerick hurling team, we got it shortly after their quarter-final win over Kilkenny last weekend.

"We don't care what happened in the past," said Tom Morrissey, and while the 22-year-old may have said those words, I'd bet he didn't come up with them.

They'll have come from the manager, John Kiely, who'll have told his team over and over, in the nicest possible language, 'to hell with the past. For Limerick hurling, all that matters is now'.

There's no doubt they have the ability to beat Cork next week and, even if they've been here so many times before, this team feels different. What has impressed me most is their forward line and its movement, especially the positioning for Gearóid Hegarty and Morrissey as workers up and down the wing.

The modern wing-forward has to also play like a wing-back and both those players are willing to do that work. That's been the big trick of Kiely; managing players' ego and natural tendency to do their own thing.

For instance, Shane Dowling understands now that he may not start and, as a result, he's got rid of a perceived ego. He understands that that's his role for the team and he played it perfectly with Peter Casey against Kilkenny when they both came on as substitutes.

Limerick manager John Kiely. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Limerick manager John Kiely. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

At midfield, Cian Lynch is a hard-working grafter and he exemplifies the transition in this Limerick team; that realisation that you've to sacrifice some of your own game to suit the team.

When you look at Kilkenny at their peak, the star forwards such as Henry Shefflin and TJ Reid were in their own half-back line for passages of play and that's the way it has to be to win All-Irelands.

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It took other counties a while to realise it but it's hard work in its simplest form; you have to work back then still get up the field when the ball lands. That comes down to human endeavour and this Limerick team has it.

They like to play the ball into the full-forward line where they've Aaron Gillane as a willing runner, Seamus Flanagan who gives them an X-factor and Graeme Mulcahy who often finds himself 60 or 70 yards out from goal hooking and blocking - work he doesn't mind.

I don't think their playing model will change against Cork. It's hard work with 10 and 12 coming back the pitch to help and the forwards stay rotating to share the workload.

That's why young fellas are great, especially when they have pace. It's that thing you can't train into a player, that desire for work rate and to do whatever he can to make sure the player beside him looks good.

That's the secret ingredient that Limerick have now and Kiely and his backroom team have to get great credit.

Next week, the big question is the Cork puckout. Are Limerick going to follow the Cork half-forward line to the middle third or are they going to go zonal?

Kilkenny played more man-to-man against Limerick but the Cork half-forward line will ask a different question when the goalie has the ball. They're going to run everywhere.

Cork play a running game to the middle third and that'll mean Declan Hannon will have to come out to meet Darragh Fitzgibbon or Conor Lehane.

In the first half of the Munster final, Cork weren't able to run the ball through the middle third but in the second half the Clare half-back line didn't come out to meet them - the result being that they were allowed do what they liked.

In their last clash back, Limerick going down to 14 men actually suited them tactically because Cork made a dog's dinner of the sweeper - Limerick were man for man in the middle third and Cork's spare man inside was a lame duck who did nothing.

I think Limerick will flood the middle third like Waterford did against Cork and leave two inside. To beat Cork, you have to win the middle third and if that means you have two of your full-forward line out there, so be it. Hannon will be pivotal to Limerick's chance. If he wants to sit back, his two midfielders will have to do the leg work for him and also be more disciplined than the last day.

They're going to have to sit 10 yards ahead of Hannon in order to stop the Cork overlap because when Fitzgibbon goes down the middle on a solo run, then Lehane is pulling off him, Hannon could be left in no-man's land.

To win, Limerick have to put thought into their number six channel and how they're going to stop the flow of Cork when they get into a rhythm.

And there's another area Kiely will have addressed since last weekend: Limerick's lack of goals.

Much of that can be put down to Eoin Murphy, who is almost unbeatable from 10 yards out and had a performance that will have made kids all around the country want to be goalkeepers.

The message for Limerick forwards is that you can't rush your shot. They should've brought the ball in closer again st a goalie that good and, with Anthony Nash in front of them the next day, they must take those extra steps.

Limerick don't need to change their approach just because the goals haven't been coming, or because they're now in Croke Park. Their style of play is really good and they're doing all the right things, so the key is to not look at any failings of other Limerick teams, but look at the videos of the things they're good at and just keep doing them.

If they can do that, they'll be in the final.

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