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Shane Stapleton: Tipperary v Limerick hurling preview

Shane Stapleton previews round four of the Munster Hurling Senior Championship, with Limerick travelling to Semple Stadium.

19 May | BY Shane Stapleton | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: Tipperary v Limerick hurling preview

This weekend will see either the rise or demise of the machine.

Should Cork beat Clare and Tipperary overcome Limerick, then the reigning three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions will be out.

A cornered animal is a dangerous thing, particularly one that has shown such sharp talons since 2018, but there’s a pressure when knowing you’re teetering on the edge.

History has shown us that this Limerick team finds a way to safety, most notably in last year’s final against Kilkenny, not to mention the pulsating wins over Galway and Clare that came before it.

Yet signs that they are fallible have become more regular in recent outings, despite their brilliant displays en route to a league title before championship.

Waterford, of zero points and countless issues, could and perhaps should have beaten the Treaty on the opening day of the Munster SHC championship.

At the Gaelic Grounds, Clare got one over on their old rivals after a thrilling clash. John Kiely’s side lost that game by just a point and defeat was no disgrace but, for once, they are now vulnerable.

Should Limerick do enough to progress from Munster across their next two games in Thurles and against Cork, there is a sense that they will be hot favourites to make it four in a row.

Unlike Tipp, Kiely and co. will have been preparing all week like an old-style knockout clash. 

Liam Cahill knows that even if his team come up short here, they have another opportunity to qualify when hosting a beleaguered Waterford. 

When one team can live to fight another day and the other cannot, it tips the balance in the favour of the side with the greater need.

This factor may explain why Tipp have seen fit to make changes for this round-three clash. In comes goalkeeper Rhys Shelly, defender Eoghan Connolly, and experienced forward Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher. All are good players but they have been second choice up to now.

The emphasis, quite clearly, is on physicality and fronting up to the power that Limerick most always bring to championship hurling.

Johnny Ryan has had some good outings for the Premier this year but Connolly, a huge man and a former Under-20 captain, may present a more suitable match-up against Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey, or even Seamus Flanagan.

‘Bonner’ Maher had a day to forget when these teams met in the league semi-final in late March but has been handed another opportunity by Cahill.

Four years ago, in what was a dead-rubber round-four clash between the teams, Tipp played a full-strength team in a game they did not need to win and lost Maher for the season with a cruciate, while Cathal Barrett picked up an injury that would see him miss the Munster final.

Tipperary won that meaningless clash against a Limerick side that rested key men, but were subsequently sundered by the Treaty a couple of weeks later.

That was yet another occasion since 2018 where Kiely’s troops steamrollered their old rivals for sustained periods of a game.

When the green horde get their tail up, Tipp have not had an answer. There was the 16-point turnaround in the 2021 Munster final where the Premier had been ten points up but could not stem the tide.

There was the league semi-final this year where Tipp led by four at the break but a Limerick run of 1-11 to 0-2 during a 20-minute spell of the second half was a reminder of who is king.

Given the recent trend, 4/1 on Tipperary to be leading at half time and Limerick at full time is an enticing offer. Unless the underdogs find a way to stem the tsunami mid-flow.

Mark Kehoe is the fourth change that Tipp have made to their starting team, albeit this was widely expected after the loss through injury of Jason Forde in the draw with Cork.

While the former was brilliant when firing 1-4 from play off the bench, the loss of one of the game’s most reliable free-takers is sure to give Limerick an edge. Young Gearoid O’Connor is likely to assume the responsibility and it is a big ask in such a pressurised environment.

Aaron Gillane and Diarmaid Byrnes are well used to the big day with the placed ball, so fewer question marks rest with Limerick.

Theirs is a balanced side, albeit with question marks around some key players. An off-colour Cian Lynch may be picked up by Bryan O’Mara, who proved his match in the 2022 Fitzgibbon Cup final, but the two-time Hurler of the Year could take over this game.

The rumour mill was in overdrive regarding Hegarty this week but he will play, and may end up deciding this clash despite being red-carded and started as a substitute in the opening two outings.

Injury has robbed Kiely of Sean Finn for the season but Mike Casey is an able deputy. There’s no doubting the size of the task, however. Limerick are not in fifth gear, have players searching for form, and are one misstep from the canvas.

Will Tipperary come with a knockout blow, or once more punch themselves out by the middle rounds? Recent history tells us to bet on green.

Tipperary +4 at 10/11 may be the best tip.

Visit Betway’s Gaelic sports betting page.

Shane Stapleton

Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.

Shane Stapleton

Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.