Wednesday 14 November 2018

Brendan Cummins: Limerick will never get a better opportunity to bury Cats and must shed gallant losers tag

8 July 2018; Kilkenny manager Brian Cody prior to the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final Replay match between Kilkenny and Galway at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
8 July 2018; Kilkenny manager Brian Cody prior to the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final Replay match between Kilkenny and Galway at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

There's nothing worse than walking off the field knowing that you've missed a glorious opportunity and if Limerick don't get the job done against Kilkenny on Sunday, it'll haunt them for years.

When I look back on my own days with Tipperary, two games still gnaw away at me because we were good enough to prevail on both occasions: the 2011 All-Ireland final against Kilkenny and the 2013 qualifier in Nowlan Park against the Cats.

They were lost opportunities when we were good enough to prevail and the key word in the Limerick dressing room on Sunday is belief. Waterford didn't have it when Kilkenny were on the ropes two years ago and they had to wait 12 months to make amends - and even then it was an almighty struggle.

Limerick saw what Kilkenny have to offer last year and they must firmly believe that they're better than them. That's easier said than done, however, and if they don't, they're beaten before a ball is even pucked.

John Kiely made wholesale changes from last year's qualifier clash, opting for more pace and power in attack and now they have a half-forward line that filters back the pitch and can still be up the other end when the ball lands there by some miracle.

The work-rate of Gearóid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey can prevent Cillian Buckley and Co gaining dominance in the half-back line like they did 12 months ago and that sector is now a totally different proposition.

As Kilkenny prepare for battle for the third week in a row, history suggests this will be a massive challenge for them, and having played a powerful Galway side twice, you can't underestimate the fatigue.

That heightens the pressure on the Treaty, as despite all the green shoots that they've shown, anything but victory will render 2018 a failure.

Limerick will feel its been far too long since they have won a match of any significance at this level. They came close against Kilkenny four years ago, but they have developed the patronising tag of 'gallant losers' and eventually it has to come to the point where you're fed up of being made little of.

Moral victories are a waste of time, so it's time to put up or shut up. There's no doubt that they have the raw materials to compete at the business end, if their Ennis flop against Clare hasn't scarred them.

The performances of Seamus Flanagan (taken off) and Hayes (sent off) for the U-21s against Tipp was worrying, but Kiely has had a month to refresh the group and they must sense the glorious opportunity before them.

The key for any team playing Kilkenny is to try to isolate Pádraig Walsh inside. It's not fair to say he's a weak link, but it's back to the old adage of hammering the hammer and making life uncomfortable for a marquee player.

You need to sit him inside on the edge of the square like Johnny Glynn did, because if he's only got a standing jump, he's in trouble. Flanagan plays like Glynn, he's very combative and uses his strength like Alan Shearer used to do in soccer.

He could feel where the defender was behind him so you could never get a run at him. If they keep Walsh planted inside then they might get some joy; you can't do it 30 or 40 yards from goal so expect Flanagan to be in on top of Eoin Murphy.

Walsh can't take the chance of standing off you and taking a running jump in there because there's too much space ahead of him, while speedsters Aaron Gillane - who I'm a big fan of - and Graeme Mulcahy will sweep in and feed off the breaks.

That's how they'll try to beat the Cats. The corner-forwards will stay wide and make it a foot race back into the middle, over and over again until eventually defenders' legs grow weary and they'll go by them and do damage. Shane Dowling might be better utilised in the role of impact sub as he slows up their style.

The importance of hard work and endeavour shouldn't be underestimated when we're finished with all the whiteboards and if Limerick have belief and work hard enough, they should get over the line by five or six points. If not, Kilkenny will rattle in a few goals and that'll be that.

They must seize the day because these chances are rare. What's facing Limerick next year in Munster? A rejuvenated Tipperary and a fresh Waterford, you don't know when you're going to get this chance again. They must grasp it.

Davy Fitzgerald is another one facing a do-or-die clash as his Wexford side meet his native Clare on Saturday. While he won't say it out loud, this is all his dreams come true.

If you had told him at the start of the year that the Banner stood between him and an All-Ireland semi-final, he'd have taken your hand off. He has a settled team, a settled formation and everything is set to deliver.

Davy has made so many excuses this year (tiredness, referees etc) in an attempt to create a siege mentality, but they've had their break and there are no hiding places now. If they don't get over the line, it could signal the end of what started as a very exciting project in Wexford.

John Conlon is on fire for Clare at full-forward, but Shaun Murphy's sweeping role could help to negate his threat - so the question is, can Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly consistently put over long-range points?

This year's evidence would suggest not, and if they don't, Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney will come under pressure.

It's high stakes but Wexford can edge it as this team has to do it for Davy. It's now or never.

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