Limerick and Tipperary clash in today’s Munster semi-final, in a tie few are brave enough to call. The Treaty are gunning to beat the Premier for a third consecutive championship meeting for the first time since 1982, or during ‘the famine’ as it is described in the home of hurling.
However, unlike the 2013 and 2014 triumphs in this fixture, Limerick enter today’s tie fancied by many to put one over on their great rivals. Two years ago, they won a first Munster Championship since 1996. Last year, they backed it up by pushing eventual All-Ireland champs Kilkenny all the way, and in truth, should have beaten them. TJ Ryan’s side have come of age, and look ready to make a serious tilt for honours this year.
However, it is not so simple. Tipperary stand in their way. This is a Tipp side littered with All-Ireland winning experience. Eamon O’Shea’s troops came within inches, literally, of lifting Liam McCarthy last September, and are backed by many to go one further this term.
Today’s game in the Gaelic Grounds is simply massive. The winner has two bites of the cherry to reach an All-Ireland semi-final. The loser must win three consecutive championship games to get to the same stage. Add the estimated 35,000-plus in attendance and the sunny weather, and this has all the makings of a classic.
In recent seasons, Tipperary and Kilkenny have been the top sides in the country. What has set them apart? One major factor is goals, and a lot of them. Rattling the net at the right time hurts the opponent. In John O’Dwyer, Séamus Callanan, and Niall O’Meara, Tipp have the tools to swing games by unlocking most defences.
But the Limerick full-back line are not just any defence. In Séamus Hickey, Richie McCarthy, and Stephen Walsh, the Treaty boast arguably the best rear-guard in the country. Add the return of Nicky Quaid and Limerick will find it difficult to score goals against TJ Ryan’s side. Not since 2012 has a team scored more than two goals against Limerick in the championship. The Shannon-siders are capable of neutralising Tipp’s deadliest weapon, and this may prove to be a factor come six o’clock this evening.
Should Tipp find a way to undo this defence, and score goals, they will win.
There has been a lot of talk about Cian Lynch this week, and how he can damage the Premier. Tipp should not focus too much attention on the youngster, with several dangerous weapons at TJ Ryan’s disposal.
Limerick also enjoy the advantage of having a tough championship game under their belts. The Clare game was cagey until the second half, but this suited Limerick, who looked the more likely to pull clear throughout. Having traveled to Thurles, Limerick bring Tipp to their own back yard. It will be a game of tight margins, and home advantage may well tip the scales.
Tipperary have not won a Munster Championship tie since beating Waterford in the 2012 Munster Final. Let that sink in. Three years since they last won a match in Munster.
Injuries have hampered Eamon O’Shea’s selection, yet they still field a strong team, Ronan Maher has been a revelation, and joins older brother Pádraic in the half-back line. Meanwhile, Jason Forde looks to have finally nailed down a consistent starting place, following an impressive Spring for both Tipp and UL. There is no room for Lar Corbett, but an appearance from the bench for the Thurles man will lift the crowd. Noel McGrath is thankfully recovering, and should the Loughmore man be introduced, the noise emanating from the stands, not only the Clare End Terrace, will put a smile on the face of any hurling fan.
Tipperary are the last side to take to the field this summer, and having not appeared in competitive action since the league semi-final loss to Waterford, the Premier will be gunning to hit the ground running. Simply, they are a side who ooze class, all over the field. But for all the talent, they have underachieved.
At the end of 2010, Liam McCarthy was back in Thurles. But perhaps more ominous for their rivals was the manner in which the u21 side disposed of Galway in the u21 final. Hurling looked set for another domination era. But this did not materialise. In O’Shea’s final term at the helm, Tipp need to stand up and be counted. No more back-door. No more heart-break. If they are going to realise the potential, 2015 is the year.
This has all the makings of a classic, and neither side will win by more than three points. Perfect weather, packed stadium. There is nothing better. Munster Championship, do your thing.
Verdict: Limerick by one.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.