Limerick and Tipperary meet in the Munster Championship next Sunday at Semple Stadium in a game that has been billed as a one-sided affair. Older Tipperary supporters will be wary of Limerick, professing that bad Limerick teams have mugged them in the past but Tipperary on paper look to be well placed to achieve a result. Both counties have had their problems this spring, but Sunday is the day that everything is put to the test.
Tipperary seemed to play at a level in 2009 and 2010 against Kilkenny that they have not matched to date this year. The Tipperary ship hasn’t been sailing smoothly. The retirement and return of Lar Corbett didn’t help, neither did the murmurings of a difference over training with Tommy Dunne - purported to be the reason for his departure. However, Lar is back in the fold, Dunne is still in the fold, and they seem to have agreed to pull together for the good of Tipperary hurling. The defeat against Cork in the League Semi Final shows that they are beatable by some teams but this may be a bridge too far for Limerick.
Different managements bring different ideas and following on from Liam Sheedy and Eamonn O’Shea was never going to be rosy unless an immediate All Ireland title was delivered as per Pat O’Shea with Kerry in 2007 and John Allen with Cork in 2005. Conor O'Brien was released a year ago, much to the surprise of some established players, yet O'Brien and Shane Maher have been recalled this year making one wonder where the young defenders are. Shane Bourke has been simmering below the surface and came to national prominence with his magnificent League scoring exploits against Galway in 2010. There was a thinking that it was a flash in the pan but he has delivered steadily for college and county this year and is well capable of producing on Sunday. Tipperary seemed to fall off the pace against Cork in the League Semi Final. Pa Bourke is becoming more consistent but there remains a thinking that his influence is greatest on a winning team.
There is a theory that their recent defeat to Cork smells of 1998. In 1998 Clare allegedly lay down in the League Semi final only to blow Cork off the field in the closing ten minutes of their championship encounter a number of weeks later. Tipperary will expect to meet Cork in the Munster Semi Final and weren’t going to go all out in the League. The frightening Kilkenny victory in the League final over Cork could mean an out-of-sorts and semi-depleted Tipperary were better off not facing Kilkenny this early. One interesting fact has come to prominence since the League Final. Since 1966, fourteen teams have won the League final by a margin of eight points or more but none of them went on to win the McCarthy Cup in the same year. It will encourage the chasing pack. History is a difficult thing to beat as Tipperary proved, having denied Kilkenny a unique piece of history in 2010. Brian Cody will have his own views on that but others will keep that statistic in mind as 2012 gets serious.
In typical fashion ‘High Seas’ have been the order of the day in Limerick with a League title blown from a winning position and the resignation of Ciarán Carey. Much has been spoken about the defeat in the League Final, and sometimes it’s best to let the temperature cool before commenting. A number of weeks later, it’s possible to look on matters objectively. Davy Fitz took over his native Clare amid some indifference among supporters which brought pressure on him to deliver. He was always intent on hitting the ground running fitness-wise, though retaining that intensity into the summer is another story. However, Clare set a target of reaching Division 1, and crossed the line, overturning an eight-point deficit early in the second half of the final to do so. One important box ticked for Davy. Ironically enough, the occasion appeared to have got to Clare early in that game, and Limerick were in total control. In past decades it was always professed that the best way of getting a team under the cosh was to start a row. Players were different then, perhaps more wholehearted in a way, and it would have worked more often. Nobody can deny that it brought a bit of life into Clare in the League final, though. Maybe Limerick could have been cuter, and maybe Limerick were unlucky that James Ryan was chasing a ball so near to Davy Fitzgerald seconds after an earlier Fitzgerald ‘involvement’. So Limerick languish in Division 1B for another year, and the relegation of Dublin more or less renders promotion in 2013 to be another challenge.
John Allen was appointed to replace Donal O’Grady in Limerick and seems to have opted for a later start. O’Grady had brought stability after a turbulent 2010 but had also brought a game plan that didn’t necessarily match the skill set of the players available to him and Allen has returned to a more direct game. Allen had previously replaced O’Grady in Cork as a measure of continuity where the backroom team remained intact but the same level of continuity doesn’t exist here. After experimenting with outside managers, there has been a clamour within Limerick to return to a native in charge and the intention back in 2010 was that Donal O’Grady would be succeeded by one of his three selectors but ironically enough none of them are around any longer. One departed of his own concern, the other went for the manager’s job but there was no clamour for him to get it. Ciarán Carey who also went for the manager’s job, remained until recently but has now departed. Allen, therefore, is now part of a management team with nobody remaining from last year, unlike in Cork where he was part of the original set-up and retained the likes of Patsy Morrissey, Ger Cunningham,