Sunday 25 August 2019

Déise need their best performance in two years to end round-robin misery

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The round-robin provincial system is only half-way through its second season, but already you have to wonder why it took so long to introduce.

It's fair and balanced, doesn't overly punish one bad day, and leaves no room for excuses at the end of the 10-game series which provides the Leinster and Munster finalists.

Fears that the competitive edge might be blunted by what is an old-fashioned league format haven't materialised, but then the margins between the three precious top spots and elimination can be so narrow that teams have to treat every game as a potential knock-out contest.

That will be very much the case with Waterford and Limerick tomorrow. Defeat for Waterford, who have already lost two games, would almost certainly (although not mathematically) see them miss the All-Ireland cut for a second successive year, while extending to eight the number of championship games without a win.

If Limerick lose, they will still have two games to pick up four points, which might be enough to keep them in contention.

Deplete

Of course, that's not where they want to be as successive defeats against Cork and Waterford would seriously deplete confidence ahead of games against Clare in the LIT Gaelic Grounds and Tipperary in Semple Stadium.

No county who lost their first two games finished in the top three in Leinster or Munster last year and while it's possible to do so if results follow a certain pattern, the risks are very high.

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It's against that background that John Kiely has spent the last two weeks fine-tuning for tomorrow's game.

He moved quickly to dispel any doubts after the defeat by Cork, talking up "a dressing-room full of guys who are capable of grabbing this thing by the scruff of the neck".

He talked too of "soul-searching this week". And then? "We've got to knuckle down, simple as that," he said.

It mirrored comments after an even bigger defeat by Clare in the final round-robin game last year, which cost Limerick a place in the Munster final.

"It's a setback for us, but I'm sure it's one we can absorb and bounce back from," said Kiely afterwards.

Two months later, Limerick were All-Ireland champions after beating Carlow, Kilkenny, Cork and Galway.

The recent defeat by Cork provided a stark reminder for Limerick of how difficult an All-Ireland title defence really is. It's even more demanding at a time when the margins between several counties are so negligible.

Waterford are very much in that category against any opposition when they power their game up to full momentum, but the question now centres on whether the big defeat by Tipperary two weeks ago has inflicted serious damage.

Having to play with 14 men for more than 40 minutes can be put forward as mitigating factor in their defeat, but it must have still been demoralising that it stretched to 18 points.

It calls for an early response tomorrow because if Limerick take control in the first quarter and settle into a comfortable rhythm, it will be a tough day for Waterford.

After being on the road for all of their games last year, returning to Walsh Park twice this summer was supposed to be a huge boost for Waterford. It didn't materialise against Clare, but with their championship survival now in serious doubt, they need to make home advantage count tomorrow.

Limerick coped comfortably with Waterford's challenge in the league final, but then the Déise beat Clare easily in the quarter-final, only to find it counted for nothing in the championship. Limerick will be conscious of that too.

The early exchanges will be crucial tomorrow.

That's when it becomes clear how both sides have reacted to recent defeats, with Waterford under particular scrutiny after being hit for 2-30 by Tipperary, their highest championship giveaway in 31 games since Tipp scored 7-19 against them in the 2011 Munster final.

It doesn't augur well. Limerick to win and add to Waterford's woes.

Irish Independent

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