Sunday 18 February 2018

Limerick's rising stars provide timely boost in race for 'MacCarthy'

It was a great weekend for hurling in that all the underdogs showed well. On Saturday, Wexford dictated the pace for the most part against Dublin, but yesterday really gave the championship a much-needed shot in the arm.

It isn't often Offaly put four goals past Kilkenny and they gave them a big fright, but I suppose the biggest turn-up was Limerick beating Tipp.

When I say turn-up, Limerick were always going to play well. They had shown their potential last year, when they were seven points up before losing by four.

Yesterday, they got the bit between the teeth early on and led for most of the game. When Tipp got the goal from John O'Dwyer, you expected them to kick on as they had gone four points clear. But they only scored another two, and it was Limerick that found another gear.

So often the underdog falls away against the traditional giant. It's like you always knew Kilkenny were going to beat Offaly in the second half once they got in front. But Limerick were very fit and they were very composed.

Their natural game is to hit-it-and-whip-it and they did that, but you could see them trying to place the ball more and that's a great testament to John Allen.

It didn't work out all the time, but they stuck with it and showed fantastic composure under pressure, which they haven't done in other years.

People wondered about Allen's team selection beforehand, but he got it spot on and the strength of the bench was a big factor. Indeed, both teams benefited from their subs.

O'Dwyer got 1-3 for Tipp, but Shane Dowling scored two great points for Limerick and Niall Moran also had an impact. They were able to bring Kevin Downes in late on as well.

Everyone needs to win, but Limerick really needed this and you could see that in their intensity. They put their bodies on the line and tackled like demons. Richie McCarthy was outstanding at full-back and the half-back line was excellent too.

They laid the template in the first half as to how they were going to play and though Tipp got into it, the pattern of the game was set. It's easy to say this was always going to happen given the players they have coming through, but the pressure was building on them to do it. And it's to their credit that they did.

You look at the likes of Declan Hannon, Seanie Tobin, Paul Browne, Gavin O'Mahony, Paudie O'Brien, Dowling and Downes. They're all young and this will be a huge boost for them.

It would be very foolish to write Tipp out of the equation, though. They are still in the championship and they'll learn a fair bit from defeat. This game could have gone either way, and Nickie Quaid made a couple of vital saves in the first half.

Tipp will feel that they didn't get the likes of Shane McGrath on the ball enough. They will look on the first half as the time they lost it, in that they let Limerick set the tone. No-one will want to meet them through the back door.

Offaly got the perfect start with Colin Egan's goal in the first minute. Every time the ball went in high around the Kilkenny full-back line, Egan and Joe Bergin looked dangerous.

It was a tough battle, but you always had the feeling that when Kilkenny would up the tempo, they'd win. They scored 15 points in the second half which is a big score, even though there were no goals.

People talk about the concession of goals and it has been happening more than we're used to. They'd prefer if it wasn't, but it only gives them something to work on.

I talked about how Limerick showed that it was a 20-man game, but no county has as strong a panel as Kilkenny.

You had Jackie Tyrrell going off, but Conor Fogarty came in and played brilliantly, as he had done throughout the league.

Michael Fennelly and Henry Shefflin will come back in at some stage and even without that duo, they were able to spring the likes of Cillian Buckley, Walter Walsh and Paddy Hogan off the bench. They'll still be fighting tooth and nail for places up there and they're still going to be the team to beat.

From the Offaly point of view, Ollie Baker has been under terrible pressure. A lot of past players have come out saying what he should be doing.

I think he did a great job. They haven't any outstanding underage talent coming through, so all he could ask for was 100pc commitment and he got that.

Irish Independent

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