By Shane Brophy
The anticipation ahead of Sunday’s Munster Championship clash between Tipperary and All-Ireland champions Limerick at Semple Stadium feels worthy of a provincial final itself.
The capacity of the famous old venue of 46,300 will come close to being met as it has the feel of an old-school straight knockout Munster championship game between the two great rivals. Some claim the hurling championship has lost an element of its greatness without the do-or-die nature of games, but this is do-or-die at this stage, particularly for Limerick who come in under the greatest pressure.
Come throw-in on Sunday at 4.00pm, Limerick could be playing for their championship survival if Cork were to beat Clare earlier in the day, which would mean the Shannonsiders would be eliminated if they were to lose to Tipperary, that is how crazy and wonderful this Munster championship has turned into this year. Sorry Waterford fans who have left the party but could still have a big say in Tipp’s future if Liam Cahill’s men fail to win on Sunday.
One win from their final two games against Limerick or Waterford will see Tipperary into the All-Ireland Series so this isn’t an all or nothing game for the Premier County. It affords the management the opportunity to sit out anyone with any form of a minor injury as it would not be worth the risk.
However, don’t for one second think that Tipp manager Liam Cahill and his selectors won’t be sending out a team to win. This is a fantastic opportunity for Tipperary to see where they stand against the best team of the last five years, and who for the first time in that period, have their backs to the wall, and you know they are going to come out swinging. Limerick will be at their best on Sunday so we need to see what Tipp will bring to match, or hopefully better it.
There is no doubt that Tipperary are better equipped to take on Limerick in any point over the last three years. They are fitter, stronger, and tactically more adept to cope with Limerick’s power and possession game. Tipperary won the middle third battle hands down against Cork last time out, but Limerick are the best in the business in this sector from Diarmuid Byrnes at 5, right through to Tom Morrissey at 12.
However, Tipperary have got the horses to compete there in Seamus Kennedy, Dan McCormack, Conor Stakelum, and Alan Tynan, the latter’s battle with Will O’Donoghue will be one to watch right from the start if there is any carry-over from the league clash in February.
Then you throw in the flair of Noel McGrath whose coolness on the ball will be vital if Tipp are to win and while Limerick don’t tend to focus too much on opponents per-say, they will likely try to ensure Noel McGrath doesn’t have the same impact on the game as he did against Cork.
In terms of personnel, there will be at least one change from the Tipperary team that started against Cork with Jason Forde ruled out for the rest of the Munster campaign with a hamstring injury. His likely replacement would appear to be Mark Kehoe who came on for him against Cork and was superb scoring 1-4, with Gearoid O’Connor taking over the free-taking responsibilities.
There could be another change in attack at corner forward with Sean Ryan under pressure where the management might opt to go for more power and experience against this Limerick side. He has options to go with the more power of Conor Bowe or the experience of John McGrath, particularly if Mike Casey has to come in out of position at corner back for the injured Sean Finn. Patrick Maher’s physicality could also be an asset against Limerick, despite him struggling against them in the league meeting. It could also be an ideal game for Seamus Callanan to get vital minutes into his legs after missing much of the campaign through injury. He looked sharp in his brief cameo against Cork, but the likelihood is we may see him coming off the bench for longer in the second half.
Further back the field you wouldn’t expect many changes. If there is one, it may be with Johnny Ryan at corner back whose lack of size could be a weakness against this Limerick side. However, as Limerick tend to play Seamus Flanagan and Aaron Gillane inside as a two-man full forward line, likely to be taken up by Michael Breen and Cathal Barrett, Ryan could be tasked to take up Peter Casey who tends to play a floating role and the Arravale Rovers clubman would be more suited to that at this stage of his development.
While Tipp have the fall-back of the Waterford game if they don’t get the win this Sunday, they won’t be holding back against Limerick. Manager Liam Cahill will see this as the ideal staging post to see where his team are at, plus testing the mettle of his players. The Ballingarry clubman has endured a lot of disappointments against Limerick during his time as Waterford manager and will feel he needs to crack the code soon against the Shannonsiders, and if they do on Sunday, he will have an All-Ireland contender team.
Tipperary will be tested in every way on Sunday, from fitness, strength, composure, gameplan etc…but for the first time in a couple of years, there is an air of optimism that Tipp have the ability to withstand what Limerick will throw at them.
Tipp showed in the 2021 Munster Final, the 2022 championship clash in Limerick, and this year’s league clash that they have elements of play that make things very difficult for Limerick. Why Tipp came unstuck in all three of those games is when the Limerick tsunami came, they were unable to withstand it and reduce the level of damage during that period. The players know Limerick will have a purple-patch on Sunday, and how they deal with it and respond will be key if Tipp are to get the win, and if they do, it would be the county’s biggest win since the 2019 All-Ireland Final. That is how big this game feels!