Friday 19 July 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Premier's intense pressure game will be the key as Treaty look to time run to perfection in Munster showdown'

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Filling big boots: Dan McCormack. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Filling big boots: Dan McCormack. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Six days out from the Munster final, there's one thing I'm sure of: we're about to witness a very different game to what we saw in Semple Stadium.

Over the weekend I watched that game back, and it's surprising Tipperary didn't win by more. I counted 36 unforced errors for Limerick, 19 for Tipp. The chief cause? Pressure.

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Tipp are putting incredible pressure on their opponents' passing, on their skills. It's easy to watch a video and call players out for turnovers, but it's very different being in the eye of that storm.

It's something we faced with Tipp in 2009 and 2010 against Kilkenny, as they got to you before you got your head up. It's suffocating and squeezes the life out of your attack.

There was a narrative swirling last week that Limerick weren't trying a yard in Thurles, but I don't buy it.

You can't tell me Shane Dowling or Aaron Gillane weren't trying - when you put on an inter-county shirt there's no stage where you say 'to hell with this'.

They were just completely out-thought and out-fought, punch-drunk in the end and making bad decisions all over the pitch. Tipperary have made every Munster team look ordinary because of their work rate and Limerick were just the latest victims.

So why should Sunday be any different? Well, there are several reasons.

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The first is 'Bonner' Maher. Limerick didn't know what to do with him the last day and with him absent Tipp will hope Dan McCormack is up to the task, even though he's a very different player.

If there's one thing that will decide the game, it's Declan Hannon versus Paudie Maher, the two who will have the most possession. Whoever uses the ball better through their areas or stops the other team playing through them will win, because those are the platforms to play from.

I wrote last week that Maher was a perfect sweeper for Tipp, but by definition he's not really that.

Playing a sweeper means you take a corner-forward out to play as a third midfielder, which allows a centre-back to sit, but Tipp aren't doing that, they're still playing three in the full-forward line.

Noel McGrath and Michael Breen are sitting and the half-forwards and midfielders are working so hard that they balance the books, even though it's four on five.

The constant rotation of the forward line means fellas pop up all over the place for Tipp, and that's the big conundrum for Limerick. If you go man-to-man - and Noel McGrath is an obvious target for that - you drag your whole defensive structure out of kilter because you've one less guy tracking back and space starts to open up everywhere.

The puck-outs will be key. I think Limerick will step back on Tipp's puck-outs, then it depends if Brian Hogan goes short to the corner-back. With Cathal Barrett possibly out, Limerick could well dare Tipp to run the ball out.

Between the Limerick '45' and '65' the last day Tipp killed them with turnovers. When ball dropped, Tipp were able to manipulate it in the air and move it around and even when Limerick won it, they took it off them because Limerick didn't have the numbers behind the ball. If Limerick concede Tipp's puck-outs they'll have more numbers when Tipp go long.

For Limerick's puck-outs, I think they'll revert to last year's All-Ireland final strategy: line up in the middle of the pitch and go in-to-out. If Tipp don't follow them in they'll go long down the middle where they'll have numbers.

However, to execute a long puck-out strategy, you need all your midfielders and half-forwards moving. The last day Darragh O'Donovan, William O'Donoghue and Shane Dowling didn't move so three out of five were static - that's a lot easier to close down.

Limerick had acres of space on puck-outs and they didn't explode into it, but on Sunday Kyle Hayes, Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey will all be changing positions with energy and that's a different proposition because Nickie Quaid will have more runners.

Limerick will bring a lot more fire, more anger, and because of that their style of play will be implemented better.

Tipp, though, are setting the standard for work rate and teams are struggling to play through it - you probably have to play around it. When Limerick went long the last day there was often space, but they tried to be too precise and play ball to hand. That level of precision, with the pressure you're under, is really tricky. Half a second is all Tipp players need to move it on because they're playing it into space, but Limerick players take a fraction more to play their precise passes. Tiny margins, but they add up to a meaningful difference in turnovers.

So far in this year's Championship, Limerick only had it put up to them twice and both times they haven't had an answer, which is a big concern. But having now felt the nose-to-nose pressure of Tipp already, they'll be far more prepared this time.

They'll feel they're ready to win at home and get their summer rolling. It's a question of whether Limerick have timed their run to perfection, and whether Tipperary have gone too soon.

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