Monday 14 October 2019

John Mullane: Limerick and Clare can send shock waves through Munster

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

John Mulllane

Think of some of the great GAA rivalries and you'll probably pick Dublin and Kerry in football, Kilkenny and Tipp in the hurling and perhaps Cork and Tipp too.

But the hurling rivalry between Limerick and Tipperary has plenty going for it and Limerick have more than held their own against their neighbours through the years.

They enjoyed a golden era during the 1970s against the blue and gold, right up until Tipp's famine-ending 1987 breakthrough.

Limerick always liked the sight of Tipp rolling into town and my mind drifts back to the three-game saga of 2007, a one-point win for Limerick in the 1995 Munster semi-final, the 1996 final and replay, and Limerick's comeback win in the 1992 League final.

The sides haven't met in the championship since 2016, when not even a red card for John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer could stop Tipp in the Munster semi-final.

A year previously, Tipp hammered Limerick but in 2013 and 2014, the men from the Treaty County had the measure of their opponents.

They were massive underdogs on both of those latter occasions, and won very much against the odds, but there was some expectation on Limerick's shoulders in 2015 and they crumpled under the weight - losing by 16 points.

Limerick find expectation difficult to deal with, but Tipp are coming into this game with questions of their own to answer.

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Looking at both sides throughout the League, one thing that struck me was the more settled nature of the Limerick defence.

John Kiely as good as knows five of his six backs but his opposite number, Tipp supremo Michael Ryan, is coming off the back of a rotational League campaign.

The full-back line still has a question mark over it. The placing of Cathal Barrett back in the rearguard would solve a problem, but the word locally is that Barrett - who has been used at midfield - is injured and may not play.

Will Ryan persevere with James Barry at full-back? I think he will, but he'll need two fast corner-backs on either side.

There are also rumours that Seamus Kennedy could pitch up at number 3 and I'm surprised that Michael Breen hasn't been given a run there, bearing in mind that he's had previous U-21 experience at full-back, and against Limerick.

Another line that's crucial for Tipp is the half-forward division, which imploded against Kilkenny in the League final.

Having Dan McCormack, 'Bonner' Maher and Noel McGrath back as options will help considerably, but it was at midfield that McCormack did his best work against Galway in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

Ryan certainly has options but finding the right mix is his biggest challenge. Will Seamus Callanan start and if so, what happens with Jason Forde, who shot the lights out at No 14 during the League?

I'd start both in a two-man inside line, and give them the freedom in there to move about and rotate.

For his part, Kiely is relying on a young and inexperienced forward line to come up with the goods.

But these are hungry players with an All-Ireland U-21 success under their belts, and they're mad for road.

There's a strong chance that Limerick might start without a Na Piarsaigh player in their 15, but they'll have a strong bench and it's the best squad of players that the Shannonsiders have had in a long time.

This game is perfect to kick-start the new-look Munster championship. I'm heading down to the Gaelic Grounds and it's a game I'm very much looking forward to.

It could go either way and Tipp will be on their guard because they lost a League final to Galway last year and came a cropper against Cork.

They're also coming into this championship opener off the back of a League final loss and forewarned is very much forearmed.

Weighing everything up, and factoring in Tipp's unsettled defence and potent attack against Limerick's settled defence and inexperienced attack, I'm giving Limerick a hesitant vote.

I always feel that a team more settled from numbers 1 to 9 has the edge in a tight game, which I'm expecting this one will be.

Down in Cork, meanwhile, you have the hosts against Clare and while the Banner men are as good as anything from numbers 8 to 15, they're vulnerable at the back.

You could say similar about Cork - potent up front but with chinks defensively - but I don't get a feeling similar to last year that the Rebels are capable of igniting.

Manager John Meyler has a decision to make at full-back, in whether he goes with Damien Cahalane or Eoin Cadogan. I'd go with Cahalane, but he does have the option of protecting Cadogan by playing Cahalane and Colm Spillane on either side.

With my head on the chopping block, it's Clare for me in what should hopefully be a 'Super Sunday' of hurling.

We had fireworks at Parnell Park last Sunday - now it's Munster's turn to spark.

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