Sport Hurling

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Gap just too big for Limerick

Limerick's Declan Hannon
Limerick's Declan Hannon
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

At the three-quarter mark in last year's Munster quarter-final, Limerick led Tipperary by seven points, only to lose by four.

"That game will bring us on a lot," said Limerick manager John Allen.

Two months later, Limerick were only a point behind Kilkenny after 45 minutes of the All-Ireland quarter-final but lost by nine. "I said to the lads at half-time (Limerick trailed by a point), do we believe we can win? We were well in the game but things changed after half-time," said Allen.

Their confidence tanks had emptied under Kilkenny's intense pressure.

In April, Limerick led Dublin by two points on the hour mark in the Division 1B league final; they lost by a point.

"We had eight wides in the first half and Dublin didn't have one. That was the difference really. Dublin were most clinical," said Allen.

That's three big games in which Limerick failed to exploit one massive chance (v Tipperary), one good chance (v Dublin) and one realistic chance (v Kilkenny). Okay, so Kilkenny were always likely to beat them but, based on their first-half performance, Limerick would have expected to be closer at the finish.

Having beaten Dublin in the 1B group game, they should have done better in the promotion final and they definitely should have made more of their big lead against Tipperary last year. Instead, they lost the last 15 minutes by 11 points.

In each case, Allen was the essence of reason but he must have been ankle-deep in frustration over Limerick's inability to deliver in big games. Their drop in power as the second halves progressed cost them dearly every time.

Worse than that, it may have produced a psychological hangover, leaving them feeling that, even when they are going well, there's trouble ahead while also encouraging the opposition to believe that, however far ahead Limerick may be, they can be reeled in.

That will persist until Limerick slay a big beast. And they don't come much bigger than Tipperary who, after a wobble in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, overtook Galway as No 2 behind Kilkenny in this year's league.

At face value, the task facing Limerick is beyond them. There's compelling evidence that Tipperary are better than last year and none that Limerick have advanced. However, it would be unwise to base everything on what's gone before.

Remember, Limerick outscored Tipperary by 1-16 to 1-9 over the first 50 minutes last year. That game was in Thurles but, had it been at the Gaelic Grounds, would Limerick have been completely out of sight?

They return home for tomorrow's Munster SHC semi-final anchored by 12 of the 15 that started against Tipperary last year, with Paudie O'Brien, David Breen and Seamus Hickey replacing Conor Allis, Shane Dowling and Kevin Downes. Dowling and Downes scored 0-6 between them from play last year and would have been expected to be even more effective this season but it hasn't worked out that way.

Perhaps significantly, though, Tipperary subs 'Bonner' Maher, Shane McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Seamus Bourke made a telling impact when introduced against Limerick last year so having Downes and Dowling on the bench strengthens Allen's hand when changes become necessary tomorrow.

There's a real feel-good factor in Tipperary at present. Even though they lost three league games against Cork, Waterford and Kilkenny (in the final), they won four in the elite 1A group whereas Limerick were operating in the less intense environs of 1B.

Closing that gap with Tipperary will be very difficult for Limerick. In fact, it's highly likely it will prove beyond them. However, producing a performance that offers confidence for the qualifier journey is within their reach.

Verdict: Tipperary

Limerick – N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; P O'Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony; P Browne, D O'Grady; D Breen, J Ryan, S Hickey; G Mulcahy, D Hannon, S Tobin.

Tipperary – B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; K Bergin, C O'Mahony, Padraic Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; J Forde, Patrick Maher, J O'Brien; S Bourke, S Callanan, N McGrath.

Limerick v Tipperary

Live, tomorrow, TV3, 4.0

Irish Independent

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