Sunday 17 December 2017

Limerick's direct style to subdue flashy Rebels

Cyril Farrell

It's hard to credit that Limerick haven't won the Munster title since 1996 and that it's seven years since Cork were champions, but it's a combination that adds greatly to the intrigue factor of tomorrow's final.

But then it has been a remarkable hurling championship so far and it could well have a lot more twists in store yet.

Tipperary's elimination by early July certainly wasn't on anybody's prediction list, but after fading out against Limerick, they lost control of their destiny and were punished by having to beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park for survival.

Tipperary are better than several of the teams still standing but that's irrelevant now and serves as a clear warning that once you're beaten early on, the qualifier draw can be unforgiving.

If Limerick hadn't staged such a brave recovery against Tipperary, would they now be out of the championship and looking in on a Tipp v Cork final in Thurles?

CONSTRUCTED

Instead, the Gaelic Grounds are getting ready to rock to what will be an incredible beat. Cork's win over Clare was impressively constructed off a superb display of point-taking, but I believe that the main momentum is with Limerick.

John Allen has them hurling to their natural style and, as Tipperary discovered last month, Limerick are a serious force when their game is in full flow.

They'll move the ball once (or twice if the occasion demands it) with a handpass in defence, but otherwise it's direct hurling played in an in-your-face sort of way.

Cork are flashier, especially in attack, and will cause big problems for any defence if they are allowed room to get on the ball.

Clare gave them space in the second half of the semi-final and paid a heavy price. Limerick will have noticed that, so you can expect their defence to whip into everything with real menace.

Brian Murphy's absence is a big loss to Cork in a season where they have been unlucky with injuries. This latest one definitely weakens the defence and might just be the game-changer which gives Limerick the edge.

That would leave Cork joining Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, where I would expect them to be joined by Kilkenny and Clare. Kilkenny are facing a different sort of challenge than last week against Waterford this evening, and while it might appear easier, the circumstances are very different.

There was more joy on Kilkenny faces – on and off the field – following last Saturday's win than after many of their Leinster final wins over the last decade.

The challenge now is to perform in a less emotionally charged atmosphere against a Waterford team that is blending very nicely.

Kilkenny are usually very good at adapting to what's put in front of them, and certainly there were many signs last Saturday that they had cleared the dirty petrol from the system.

They won without scoring a goal, which means that, most unusually, they have hit the net only once in four championship games.

That's ominous for Waterford as it's difficult to see the goal drought continuing for much longer. Clare have also been light on goals this year, but possess the overall game to beat Wexford.

It's trickier than it looks, though, because Wexford will take great encouragement from the progress Dublin made after beating them. Also, Wexford got another boost when their U-21s beat Kilkenny on Wednesday evening.

Better times lie ahead for Wexford seniors, but this evening may bring the end of the road for 2013.

Once again, it's soul-searching time for Galway after the disappointing performance against Dublin. Credit to Dublin, the major success story of the season so far, but Galway made it so much easier than it should have been last Sunday.

As a former Galway manager, who knows all about bad days as well as good days, I'm well aware that Anthony Cunningham will be bombarded with advice, but in the end, he has to make his own decisions.

He – and he alone – must be the main man off-field, trusting his knowledge and instincts on what must now be done to get back on track.

As for the players, each man must be truly honest with himself: did I do enough to make things happen? Most of them know the answer to that.

My view is that Galway try to play the perfect ball all the time, forgetting perhaps that you can't play any ball if you don't have it.

Better to make a mistake with possession than not have the ball in the first place. In other words, trust your instincts and never allow them to become subservient to the system.

Personnel-wise, I would switch Cyril Donnellan from attack to defence, slotting him in at centre-back, with Shane Kavanagh dropping back to No 3. It might look rash to gamble with Donnellan at No 6 at this stage of the season, but clearly the defence needs adjusting. Besides, there are times when bold decisions must be made, and this is one of them.

Andy Smith should start at midfield, and I'd go with Johnny Glynn at centre-forward. Next Sunday week is a huge day for Galway, but the next 13 days are almost as important.

That's when the manager, in a calm, cold, calculating way, and each individual player in a real honest way, must get the approach right. After that, anything is possible.

Irish Independent

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