The Munster championship opened with a bang when Cork and Waterford proved to be inseparable in the first round. The next game to look forward to is Tipperary against Limerick. Here we will look at some of the key factors ahead of the game.
As is always the case in Munster, it will be an eagerly awaited contest between two close rivals. Tipperary, along with Cork, are the traditional powerhouses of Munster but all other counties are capable of competing with either side. Limerick showed this clearly last year when they surprised a lot of people by beating Tipperary. It set the tone for both sides as they both went on to have very different seasons.
Limerick won their first Munster title since 1996 while Tipperary were left out of the championship at the start of July, losing to their greatest rivals in Kilkenny. Both sides will have learned an awful lot from last year. A win set Limerick up for a good season, while a loss left Tipperary in the height of trouble. As a result both teams will be desperate to win on Sunday.
It should be another close encounter. There isn’t much between the teams and both sides have had ‘up and down’ campaigns thus far. Tipperary have been complete hit and miss but have looked very good when playing well, and on the flip side, looked very poor in games when they were beaten. Limerick started the year by showing great character to get a draw against Cork when down to fourteen men. Their destiny was in their own hands regarding promotion from Division 1B, yet they managed to throw away a lead at home to Offaly and now find themselves facing another year in the second tier of the league.
Following the league, co-manager Donal O’Grady resigned leading to talk of unrest in the camp. It’s hard to know what shape Limerick will be in come the weekend. It’s a game that is very hard to predict, but below we will look at some factors that could influence the result.
It will be interesting to see if the fact that this year’s game is on in Thurles will make a difference. Home advantage seems to be becoming more of a factor in G.A.A in general and playing in Thurles may prove to be of benefit to the Premier men. If they play with the freedom and passion that they showed in the latter stages of the league, then Tipp supporters could have plenty to cheer about and create an atmosphere to drive on their players.
It should be noted that the game between the two sides in 2012 saw Limerick race into a lead, but home advantage helped Tipperary to pull through when the likes of Patrick Maher and Eoin Kelly were sprung from the bench to boost the team and the crowd. We will have to see if a similar scenario may occur this time around. This Sunday promises to be the day that kicks off the summer’s hurling. The weather forecast is good, it’s the long weekend, hopefully there will be a big crowd in Thurles (the home of the GAA) and both sides can provide a good afternoon of hurling.
2. Seamus Callanan
Will he be Tipperary’s key man like he was in the league or will he flatter to deceive as he has often done when it comes to the summer?
There is no doubt that one of the primary reasons for Tipperary’s turnaround in the league was Callanan’s form at full-forward. He showed every quality needed for a talisman in attack; leadership, ball-winning, pace, power, finishing and composure in abundance. His free taking was unerring and he showed some of the best form he has ever shown, but questions still haven’t been answered.
Even in the league final against Kilkenny, he failed to reach the standards that he set for himself. That was his biggest test so far this year and it’s safe to say that much sterner tests will lie ahead for Callanan. Sunday is a big game and he has had a lot of joy in previous Munster campaigns. If Tipperary are to win, there is a strong chance that they will need Callanan to deliver. His time really is now. He has shown the capability to be their main forward, but now he must prove that he can do it in the heat of battle if he is to be considered a top-class intercounty hurler.
3. Declan Hannon
Hannon is a player that can easily be forgotten about but on his day he is one of Ireland’s best. He is still a young player but he has had a long and frustrating run of injuries both player and county. He is Limerick’s best forward and can be a match-winner. He missed their whole league campaign and his loss was really felt. He has been declared fit for this weekend and it will be interesting to see just how sharp he will be for the game with Tipperary.
Limerick’s chances will be enhanced significantly if he can play well and show a good level of match fitness. He carries a big threat. He is a big physical presence but is more known for being a very skilful hurler. He knows where the posts are and has a point to prove having missed a lot of frees in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Clare. His age is something that is easily forgotten. Last season he played his fifth season of under-21 hurling for Limerick, and now that he is free from those extra games, he could easily find himself having a bigger influence on the senior team. He could be what Limerick need to win on Sunday.
In Limerick’s situation here, it really is hard to know if the departure of Donal O’Grady will have any impact on Sunday or their season in general. People tried to put two and two together with a similar case involving the Donegal footballers and we saw how they answered their doubters last weekend against Derry.
From an outsider looking in, it is easy to think that Limerick may have trouble in the camp but we realistically haven’t got a clue. For all we know, these last few weeks may have galvanised Limerick as a group. They could be going into this championship in a great position, as underdogs with little expectation. We will find out soon if the management team has had a significant impact.
Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea does deserve credit for turning things around. In certain ways it looked like he had taken a very tough job and the start of this season did little to suggest otherwise. They were struggling, but O’Shea did make a few moves that have turned things around. The move of Brendan Maher to centre-back and Padraic Maher to full-back have really tightened up the defence as has Michael Cahill moving back to corner-back following a spell at midfield. Noel McGrath finally seems to be playing in a free role that allows him to influence the game. These are four of the Premier’s most important players and he does now seem to be getting the best out of them. He deserves credit for turning things around but he now needs to get it right again on Sunday.
5. Performance on the day
While other factors have been mentioned above, the simplicity of the whole thing is that the team who plays better will more than likely win.
Tipperary will be favourites taking home advantage and league form into account, but they still remain unpredictable, particularly if there is a reliance on Seamus Callanan. A return of Lar Corbett could be a boost if he is available and a player like Jason Forde could yet have an impact on their season. Limerick are in a great position in some ways, but they are another county that struggle for consistency. They could fail to perform or they could surprise a few.
The game will simply be won by the team that rises to the occasion. It’s a huge game for both and one that each side will be desperate to win. The potential is there for a cracking game.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.