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Shane Stapleton: Munster Hurling Senior Championship Preview

26 Apr | news | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: Munster Hurling Senior Championship Preview

Shane Stapleton previews Limerick v Tipperary and Cork v Clare in Round 2 of the Munster Hurling Championship.

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Rewind eight years and the notion of Tipperary beating Limerick was nothing more than a matter of course.

The Treaty have never feared their neighbors and had picked up championship wins in 2007, 2013 and 2014, but otherwise Tipp had been unbeaten in 12 clashes (including three draws) going back to the start of the 1997 season.

The sense within the Premier County was that if they had their ducks in a row, these games were akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Victories by ten, seven, 24 and 16 points came within this run, with the occasional defeat often seen as a lapse.

The teams next met in the 2016 Munster semi-final at Semple Stadium in Michael Ryan’s first championship outing as manager, a season after the departure of Eamon O’Shea.

A red card to John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer after 14 minutes threatened to scupper the hosts’ chances but goals from Seamus Callanan and Michael Breen (two) allowed Tipp to establish a 3-5 to 0-11 lead by the interval, with Cathal Barrett buttressing the back line thereafter as Tipp weathered the storm and lost the second half by just 0-7 to 1-5.

The Blue and Gold played around their old rivals and TJ Ryan’s side had no answer. The former went on to win Munster and All-Ireland titles in convincing fashion, as only Galway in the semi-final came within nine points.

That same season, Tipp’s Under-21s eked out a two-point win over a hotly-tipped Limerick side  while the same county won Munster and All-Ireland finals against the green jerseys by 17 and seven points respectively.

All the signs at senior and underage levels suggested that this relationship would continue in the same manner, but how different the reality is now.

Let’s dismiss the 2019 Munster round-robin clash which mattered little to either side, and for which Declan Hannon and Cian Lynch were not started by the All-Ireland champions. While the Premier came out on top by four points, they lost Cathal Barrett and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher to injury.

A few weeks later, the sides met in a game that mattered: the Munster final at the Gaelic Grounds, and what began as a furious affair descended into a humiliation for Tipperary.

Limerick had already smashed Tipp a year earlier when manager Ryan made five big changes going into the clash, whereas this time injuries forced Liam Sheedy into alterations to his fifteen.

It mattered little as John Kiely — who had glumly watched on at Croke Park in 2009 as his county were sundered by Sheedy’s 2009 iteration by 24 points — exorcised further demons.

The 14-point win was about winning silverware first and foremost, but the manner of it sent a message to their nemesis about where this relationship had gone to. Yes, Tipp went on to win the All-Ireland after Kilkenny caught the Treaty in the semi-final, but the dye was cast between these two.

Outside of the dead-rubber round robin game in 2019, Kiely has recorded wins by six, 12, nine, five, and seven points in the championship against Tipperary — with only last year’s draw interrupting their dominance.

The recurring pattern within these games is that Tipperary empty the tank in an attempt to disrupt the playing patterns of the green juggernaut, but ultimately run out of juice, and often the comprehensive scorelines flatter the Premier.
A Callanan goal put Tipp five ahead in the 2019 Munster final after 18 minutes, but the green army won the remainder by 17 points: 2-22 to 1-8. Long before the final whistle, the game was over, and the fallen side had seized up.

Fast-forward two years and Tipp played some incredible hurling to nudge themselves ten points in front. Just before the interval, the Treaty showed signs of life, and by midway through the second half they had overwhelmed their adversaries to have a Munster title in the bag once more.

Kyle Hayes had been marshalled well by Breen for much of the game, but scored one of the great solo goals on one of the few occasion when he was given room to hare into.

When Tipp have met Limerick during the Kiely era, there has been the sense of a 400-metre dash: the green vest carries an even cadence throughout, and stays calm even when the blue decides to set a fast pace; ultimately, the latter struggles to stay the course and their legs begin to wobble, with green cruising past.

This theme continued last season as Limerick scored four of the five points from the 69th minute until deep into injury time, but the Premier found a way to engineer a draw as John McGrath fired over a free of his own making.

The league clash this year saw Tipp go five ahead after 31 minutes but then Limerick hit four in a row before the break. Early in the second half, Kiely’s crew went on a run of 0-8 to 0-2 to put themselves in the ascendancy.

And while ‘Bonner’ Maher and Jake Morris scored goals to keep the scoreline very close (0-26 to 3-16), their rivals had created 12 of the 19 chances in the final ten minutes plus injury to highlight their ability to play for 70 minutes once more.

For Tipperary to win, the evidence suggests that they need to establish a lead and find a way to hold on. Funny things can happen on big championship days when old rivals meet, but Limerick’s method of winning shows no sign of letting up: absorb the hits and then unload until the final bell. Clare felt it last weekend.

For Tipp, they can look at the first 53 minutes to see plenty of signs that Limerick are not firing on all cylinders just now, but also see that switching off will be punished. Yes, a couple of square-ball decisions went the way of the reigning champions, but the harder you work the luckier you get. Being able to go to the well for longer is key to their continued success.

Cork decided to pick a number of their veterans against Waterford and the evidence says it backfired. Seamus Harnedy, Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane have had brilliant days for their county but just 0-1 returned off ten shots from open play in the first half did their side no favours.

Poor decision-making underlined much of this issue, and feeding more ball to the hot hands of Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly might well have changed the outcome.

Damien Cahalane received a harsh red card for two yellows, while a black card-penalty decision — which should never have been — was very costly in the latter stages.

Still, Pat Ryan knows that his team kept fighting all the way to the finish line and that is a great start. He can also revise his starting team, all of which could feed into a response against Clare.

The Banner were brilliant for 50-odd minutes against the Treaty but the manner of their collapse may be damaging beyond this weekend; a sense that they threw every punch possible in the Shannonside derby, and still they found a way to lose.

What Brian Lohan and his management team need to find is the right way to frame this, and to ensure this does not sow seeds of doubt between the ears of the players. That is all that matters going into this huge weekend of hurling.

Tipp half time-Limerick full time at 5/1 looks tasty, as does a Cork-Clare draw at 8/1.