Tipperary Supporters Club

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‘This is totally new to Limerick and Tipperary is their biggest test yet’ – Ciarán Carey

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Source: Independent.ie

The tendency is usually to let the heart rule the head when it comes to hurling matters, but Ciarán Carey has no problem calling it as he sees it – Limerick are “fragile” and cracks are appearing in their foundations.

The Treaty legend “wasn’t fully surprised” to see John Kiely’s men struggle in their Munster SHC campaign thus far – scraping over Waterford before falling narrowly to Clare – but this is new territory for all involved.

They have taken all before them since 2018, with four provincial titles followed by a quartet of All-Ireland successes, but their shot at hurling immortality hangs by a thread as they head to Thurles tomorrow.

“The last two games highlights that they are probably a small bit fragile, probably a small bit frail and when most counties see that, they are going to come with everything at you,” Carey tells the Irish Independent.

“The patch that they’re going through is totally new to them and their biggest exam is going to come up against Tipperary, their biggest challenge, because they’ve under-performed for the last two matches.

“A lot of teams have probably watched and scrutinised the Munster final this time last year and finally there are a good few county teams out there now that are actually putting the squeeze on Limerick.

“They’re pushing up and really pushing up on the puck-out. When I say fragile, that’s what I mean. Limerick aren’t used to that, and I suppose I’m asking have they another plan to counteract that?”

Carey has always waxed lyrical about the coaching genius of Paul Kinnerk and he is eager to see what tactical changes, if any, that follow from their three-week break since the Banner defeat.

“It’s a must-win for Limerick, have they had enough of time in three weeks to implement what they want to implement or to add something new to the system that we haven’t seen in the last two games? Only time will tell that, but I’d imagine Paul has something up his sleeve,” he adds.

History suggests that much like the great Dublin football squad under Jim Gavin, few react to a championship defeat better than Limerick with a 17-game unbeaten run assembled in the wake of their shock 2019 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny.

“That’s the last time that I saw Limerick being fragile up until this year,” Carey says of the seismic loss to the Cats. “They’re definitely under pressure and under the cosh without even mentioning any injuries (key defender Seán Finn is out for the season with the curse of the cruciate).

“Injuries aren’t the issue here, it’s the opposition putting the squeeze on them and pushing up on them and going on the last two games, not being ready for that and not being able to counteract it.

“I’d imagine they’re going to come up with something and I would still have faith in the squad because of their experience and the composure that they have shown under serious pressure in the last few years.

“They were able to withstand it and cross the line, but this is a different animal. Their squad in the last number of years, in my opinion, would have been a lot stronger so there’s a lot of food for thought there too.”

The personnel taking to the pitch over the last six seasons has largely been the same with Carey admitting that they may be showing signs of being “flat to the mat since 2018”.

The three-time All-Star, widely regarded as one of the best players never to win an All-Ireland, makes no bones about the fact that the mileage seems to be catching up with some marquee men ahead of what he brands their “biggest test”.

“The speed and the prepping for the modern inter-county hurler, it’s all new. No one in the 90s or the 2000s did anything compared to what the present crop of hurlers are doing, the commitment and the amount of pace involved,” he says.

“They’re human beings so it was only a matter of time before there might be a bit of a wobble and this is the biggest test that they have faced up until now.

“I’d be still quietly confident that it’s an exam that they can pass. The mileage possibly is showing in one or two players but probably not the players that I thought it might be.

“It’s a bit late now but I probably would have sprinkled in a lot more in the first round against Waterford and just give them a bit of game time and let them soak in that atmosphere.

“Potentially, there may be two or three that could make an impact if they were given more time. Now they’re in a position that they mightn’t fully know where they are.”

One player who has never wavered this season, however, is Tom Morrissey with Carey hailing him as “the most honest player in that Limerick set-up,” as he continues to bring the fire and brimstone needed, no matter who the opponent is.

“He just doesn’t empty the tank, he empties the spare tank and that’s the type of player that managers really die for, that honesty on the field. He’s the one player that no matter what is goes on, he always appears to empty the tank,” Carey says.

“He’s highlighted himself hugely. This year he is probably off the mark a bit quicker than he was in the past. He’s a lot sharper at the start of the year than he probably has been in the past, but the same honesty is there.”

The Ahane attacker is usually running riot alongside half-forward colleague Gearóid Hegarty, but the latter has been off-colour so far this season with wild rumours also being fired around about the former Hurler of the Year that don’t help things.

“It’s mad really,” Carey says. “If you look at it there the last few days, Hegarty has been lambasted, Davy Fitz has been lambasted, the Waterford hurlers have been lambasted and realistically, it’s all on social media.

“All it takes is some coward really, because it’s very easy to do it, to put up something to get it stirring. Rumours are rumours but the only thing I’ll say about Gearóid is that they dropped him the last day. He came on in the second half and your eyes don’t tell lies.

“He wasn’t fully at it, his body language showed that he wasn’t fully at it so there might be something within the camp that probably needs to be dealt with but other than that, I’d know of nothing else. The rest is just the handy loose talk that you always hear.”

Carey is happy that social media didn’t exist during his heyday – “our social media back then was your national newspaper,” – and he insists that players must choose whether or not it is worth the bother, despite its many merits and positive aspects.

“If social media was as active as it is now back in my day, I suppose I’d be getting an Oscar award nearly every year!” Carey says of his own escapades off the pitch before discussing the value of being “online”.

“For a person to be minding himself mentally and emotionally, it wouldn’t be the greatest idea to be spending six or seven hours a week on social media, if you’re a top-class athlete.”

Having donned the blue and gold of Patrickswell for his whole career – he is now taking some time out to play for the Limerick Masters football side – it’s not a big departure to ask Carey what will be going through the heads of Liam Cahill’s Tipp squad this week.

“You couldn’t but smell blood if you were a Tipp player and you couldn’t but go straight for the jugular. Sunday is possibly their greatest chance in the last six years to overturn Limerick and are they going to be good enough?” he ponders.

“That’s the question. If I was a Tipperary player, I wouldn’t be able to wait for Sunday. Tipp must see nothing only a Munster semi-final, ‘if we win this, we’re in the Munster final’ and that must be their frame of mind.

“If I was a Tipperary player, I’d be smelling blood and there’s no margin for error for Limerick.”

Carey tries to keep a wide berth from hurling when talking to his nephew Cian Lynch, but the fitness of the two-time Hurler of the Year is another question mark floating over the champions after he strained his hamstring against Clare.

His craft and genius make Limerick tick and they need him humming once again. It won’t be easy but if the train can get back on tracks tomorrow- and they get over the line, Carey feels the season could open up.

“There’s only one way really that Limerick can put the last two games to bed and that’s to come out with a mother and father of a display against Tipp. Usually hurling wins out all the time,” he says.

“But it’s going to take a powerful performance down in Thurles. If they can come up with that, then the machine is well-oiled again and ready to go. But that’ll take a fair ordeal.”

Can Limerick rise again when the need is greatest? Time will soon tell.

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