You won’t ‘out-point’ Kiely’s outside shooters, which may explain why Clare, Cork and the Premier have taken the green flag route
“We’re starting to dream again!” said Liam Sheedy on Allianz League Sunday last weekend, and perhaps only half in jest.
The man who steered Tipperary to All-Ireland success in 2010 and 2019 was analysing his county’s ultimately emphatic victory over Waterford.
There were many reasons why Sheedy was waxing lyrical about Tipp’s spring renaissance under Liam Cahill – their work ethic and soaring energy levels chief among them – but one particular trait stood out.
“If they think there’s a goal on or half a chance, they’re in and they’re going for it,” the RTÉ pundit declared over footage of an angled strike by Jake Morris, the first of his hat-trick.
“They could have got six green flags,” he added. “If they get goals for the remainder of the league and in this championship, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
In the end, Tipp settled for four against Cahill’s former charges. That brought their overall haul to 10 goals from four league outings – out of sight compared to their rivals in Division 1 Group B, where Antrim and Waterford have five each, Kilkenny, Laois and Dublin four apiece.
But that doesn’t make them the most prolific top-flight outfit: Clare lead the way in Division 1 Group A with 12 goals, followed by Cork on 10. Then there’s a sizeable gap to Galway on four, Wexford on three, Westmeath and Limerick on two apiece.
Clare’s goal threat comes with a slight asterisk: they scored four against Westmeath and then six on a calamitous day for Wexford. They are the two leakiest defences in Group A, conceding nine goals apiece in total.
Last Sunday, the Banner failed to find the net in Ennis and, speaking on 2fm’s Game On, former Limerick forward Niall Moran remarked: “A lot of teams, there is no goal threat with them. The Clare or Galway managers would have gotten away with a wing-back playing in goal.”
This brings us to Limerick’s relative dearth of goals, and whether it makes them vulnerable when the speed of combat accelerates from April on.
The answer is probably not – but then John Kiely’s three-in-a-row champions aren’t your average Liam MacCarthy contender.
For starters, you can’t take league form as a true barometer of Limerick’s readiness for summer. Rewind 12 months for confirmation.
They also happen to be motoring better this spring even without that goal threat. Ahead of tomorrow’s final outing at home to Wexford, they are firmly in the box seat to claim the second semi-final slot from Group A, two points clear of Galway and Clare (both of whom they have beaten).
Moreover, their three primary goal threats in last year’s championship didn’t start against Westmeath last Sunday: Kyle Hayes (two goals in 2022) was suspended, Gearóid Hegarty (two goals) was a late withdrawal and the returning Aaron Gillane (three goals) only came on after 63 minutes.
But here’s the killer … one of the greatest teams in history has never overly relied on green flags. True, three goals against Galway were pivotal to the 2018 breakthrough but, in their last three finals, it has been far more about the points: 0-30 against Waterford in 2020, 3-32 against Cork in ‘21, 1-31 against Kilkenny last July.
Only once previously – Kilkenny in 2008 – had an All-Ireland finalist breached the 30-point barrier. Now you almost expect it from Limerick.
So how do you beat them? Trying to ‘out-point’ their prolific outside shooters is close to impossible, and it’s scarcely a surprise that Limerick’s one defeat this year – losing a commanding half-time lead as Cork prevailed by 2-17 to 0-22 – was only made possible by two match-turning goals in the third quarter.
Maybe this explains Tipperary’s lust for goals. Niall Moran made an intriguing point on Game On this week, suggesting Tipp are different to a lot of rivals who seem intent on mimicking Limerick’s game.
“Instead of shooting from distance, they are going back to the most effective attacking hurling you can have, which is cross-field balls and guys running off the shoulder,” he said.
“Tipp, at the moment, look the most goal-hungry, following what’s true to themselves. And I think they are going to have a lot more success than some of the other teams, who are trying to mimic [Limerick].”
Now for the inevitable caveat: Cahill has been down this road before.
Under his command, Waterford amassed a jaw-dropping 22 goals in seven league ties last year. While this included seven in a 33-point rout of Laois, their knockout stage tallies – five against Wexford, four against Cork in the final – were suggestive of a team built for goals.
But they peaked far too early.
Now steering his native county, Cahill has presumably learned a valuable lesson from last year’s round-robin disaster. But that doesn’t mean Tipp will ease up on their goal quest either tomorrow (against Antrim in Corrigan Park) or in their league semi-final a week later.
Nor does it mean that Morris – who has claimed five goals to date, 50pc of their total – won’t go for the jugular if even half a chance presents itself.