Saturday 15 December 2018

Limerick's mean defence to pose new questions for prolific Tipp

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The dramatic nature of the shoot-out, which decided the Limerick-Clare Allianz League quarter-final after two periods of extra-time failed to separate them, attracted most of the attention, leaving one very significant aspect of the game largely ignored.

However, it won't have escaped Michael Ryan as he prepares Tipperary for the semi-final clash with Limerick in Semple Stadium on Saturday evening.

Limerick went through 100 minutes of hurling without conceding a goal against Clare, a remarkable achievement highlighting the strength of the security cordon erected in front of goalkeeper, Nickie Quaid.

Not even wearying legs in 30 minutes of extra-time could unhinge a defence which has been highly effective this season.

And while Limerick were earlier operating in 1B, where there's a wide variation in standards, it can be no coincidence that they did so well before locking out Clare who had been in 1A.

Limerick have conceded only one goal - scored by Galway's Cathal Mannion - in six league games, having also kept a clean sheet in the Munster League final win over Clare.

Reassuring

That's one goal given away in eight hours and 40 minutes, giving them by far the best defensive rating in Division 1. It makes their clash with Tipperary all the more interesting as Ryan's forces have scored nine goals in six games.

Limerick manager John Kiely has established a settled defence and while he doesn't operate a sweeper in the accepted sense, his tactics work off squeezing the space in front of Quaid.

The half-backs retreat close to the full-backs, while the midfielders and half-forwards funnel into defensive mode as required. And when Limerick win possession, they sweep forward with a neat passing game.

Sean Finn, Séamus Hickey, Richie English, Tom Condon and Richie McCarthy give Kiely a range of options in the full-back line, with Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon and Dan Morrissey settled in as the half-back trio.

Quaid is a reassuring presence behind a defence which has provided Limerick with a very solid base from which to work off.

Their low concession rate marks a big improvement on last year and is one of the reasons why optimism levels have soared in the county.

However, squad and supporters will have noted how Tipperary scored 2-23 in the final hour against Dublin last Sunday and with Ryan's attack getting stronger all the time, Saturday's test will be the most challenging Limerick have faced so far.

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