Jackie Tyrrell: Limerick the masters of timing in changed landscape
I would have struggled with the idea of being 'rotated' and I wouldn't have been the only one
Limerick’s Gearóid Hegarty breaks past Seán O’Brien of Tipperary in their Munster final victory at the Gaelic Grounds. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
We stood around in a circle, tightly-knit in Nowlan Park as the last of the baking summer’s day sun beat down on us, a mixture of Vaseline and sweat dripping from lads’ noses after a very brisk and intense Mick Dempsey warm-up.
Martin Fogarty would call out two teams and hand out the gear: one coloured training top was blue and one was green.
Sometimes it was an A versus B game and sometimes it was mixed up. In those days there was always a bit more time between championship fixtures. The farther out we were the more likely it was to be mixed. Psychologically, this was great.
The message going out was, “there’s no team picked, lads” and everyone knew that Brian Cody liked to make changes so that would really fire fellas up.
Closer to the day they would become A v B selections and that got everyone nervous because you either had to defend your place or get the skates on if you were going to take it off someone else. You might be able to get away with being a bit off the pace at training in other counties but not here.
Brian would give us his last few instructions – what he was demanding from us in the session. It wasn’t anything new but still we listened. “I want to see sheer dog-eat-dog stuff out here, fire, intensity – fight for every inch. It is you or him and jerseys are up for grabs,” – the usual, we as we ran to our positions.
“We are playing three sets of 10 minutes,” would be shouted as we broke from the circle but I often wondered who was actually timing it: the auld lad over in McGuinness’s pub across from Nowlan Park, who was on the beer all day?
Whether I was marking Eddie Brennan, Richie Power or Eoin Larkin they would love nothing more than to stick 2-2 down my throat in 30 minutes of training
Sometimes 10 minutes felt like four minutes and sometimes it felt like a life-time. However it went, the management team had the great ability of blowing up the match when we were always begging for more.
Always wanting another ball, another chance to prove yourself, another chance to settle a score. When it was heating up to boiling point, the haze was pierced by a shrill blast. The whistle was blown and that was it. They might be the only time the whistle was blown throughout that particular dog-fight so it was good to see that it worked!
You were left primed, ready for more, itching to get at another team and that was a great place to be. As a corner back, I might have hit the ball three or four times, so you would be savage for more.
There was a pride thing there as well. Whether I was marking Eddie Brennan, Richie Power or Eoin Larkin they would love nothing more than to stick 2-2 down my throat in 30 minutes of training. If they could do that, they would – and I’d be going home absolutely seething with myself.
There was always a feeling though that what you did off the ball was at least as important. It was great if some fella got 2-2 but do you know what – he could have been a corner forward converting handy chances? What about the lad who ran and took the belt and maybe turned the ball over? That’s the kind of thing they’d focus in on.
When it comes to timing and having a team ready Limerick have it down to a tee. Last year they tip-toed into third place in the Munster round robin, relatively quiet and unnoticed. In hindsight, from our corner, it worked a treat for them. I’m not sure if that route was intentional but it gave them a lovely run-in to attack the All-Ireland and attack it they did, with wins over Kilkenny, Cork and Galway.
They had not blown a gasket in the round robin. You would have to say that that their timing this year has again been impeccable. After a hiccup against Cork early on, they followed up with two good wins and then rested key players for the last game.
It’s a different hurling landscape these days. It now takes seven or eight games to win an All-Ireland. We used to win them after half that number. I can understand John Kiely’s point of view. You can’t flog the horses, especially thoroughbreds.
It wasn’t without risk because a bad loss to Tipperary in the round robin and it could prove to be poor judgment and worse, have implications for later on in the summer.
Limerick had soft-pedalled into a Munster final. They were primed to assault Tipperary and blew them away. They were awesome in that second half. I loved their work-rate and physicality and how they let Tipperary know in no uncertain terms who the new kings of Munster were.
If I was to summarise the game in one incident, it was when Jake Morris received the ball in the second half and Kyle Hayes hunted him down, buried him, turned over possession and picked out Cian Lynch for a super point. That was Limerick at their best – savage in pursuit of the ball and clinical and precise in using it.
You would have to give Kiely huge credit here. While everyone was stroking their chin wondering, which Limerick will turn up; can they turn it on and off just like that, one team came to play a Munster final and the other team was going to war.
Even earlier in the championship when they lost to Cork, there was nothing structurally wrong with them – no obvious damage to the team. It was more of a mindset issue. They weren’t up for it.
They would have been thinking, “we probably started believing that we were in a better place than we were. We have to understand that every game is different and every team we play is different but we need to bring the same attitude, application and work rate.
“We didn’t that day and we got caught but the next day? We reset our focus.”
I know Limerick made a few changes but they played the game the same way, set up the same way and had the same puck-out strategy. They weren’t suddenly experimenting with a new system and switching players all around the place.
Kiely will have told them, every day you go out there as All-Ireland champions and every team you play is going to be a few per cent more determined to beat you.
I have to say personally that I would have struggled with all of this rotation and going up and down gears. I know from hurling and playing with different lads that they would have almost needed, depended on that regularity and constant performance.
Tommy Walsh for instance, wanted to play every game – an Oireachtas Cup fixture in January in the muck and the rain, he was passionate and wanted to be out there. Larkin was the same. We always thought that the more games you played the less you had to train.
I remember in league games, particularly in the late 2000s when we were going really well and playing really well for 50, 55 minutes, against Tipp or Cork and coming off delighted with myself and sitting down and seeing, maybe John Dalton going in corner back and hurling very well for the 10 or 15 minutes – and thinking to myself, “s**t, I could be in trouble here for next week.”
We always thought like that because Cody had us like that. Permanent anxiety.
So, yes, damn right I would have struggled. I can see the sense that this now is the format and I probably couldn’t play every game but it wouldn’t have been an easy adjustment.
Phony wars are started by certain results and fixtures. In the past it was foot to the floor stuff every day you turned on the engine but management teams now need to be aware that it could be five games in eight weeks and having a team primed for ignition at the right times is very hard.
I wonder if Tipperary’s age profile is a problem for them. Are older generations of players more resistant, like me, to the idea of rotation? For Tipp it could be at least as much to do with their panel strength now that they’ve shipped a couple of injuries but there looked to be tiredness there.
Noel McGrath, midway through the second half, was dropping balls that he’d normally be rising. He just wasn’t quite as sharp or as relentless as he’d been in the round robin – maybe a five per cent drop-off but five per cent in that game against Lynch and Will O’Donoghue and you can forget it.
Pádraic Maher was another. Mentally when you are fatigued, you play a little more cagily and you don’t run as much. Paudie was at centre back and the ball went over his head. Nine times out of 10 and he flies back to his 20m line but the 10th time?
Look at Peter Casey’s goal in the first half. Where was Maher? Too far up the field and he just couldn’t make it back to free up another defender to put pressure on Aaron Gillane and Casey. Small margins but put them together and they catch up with you.
Tipperary will regroup and come again in this All Ireland series. They will learn from Sunday and will need to get Cathal Barrett back to inject some pace into their back line, and push Brendan Maher back into the half back line. They also need to develop their panel and look to get some options from their bench. But Limerick are the front-runners and favourites after Sunday’s demolition job.
On a separate note, my heart does go out to the Joe McDonagh finalists who have to play this weekend, after a hard-fought campaign.
Seven days is not enough time to come down from the high of it for Laois and for Westmeath to pick themselves up and go at it again. They have a shot at Cork and Dublin and 14 days would be ideal to recover and plan a major shot at these two.
If you look at the fixtures calendar the first weekend in May is available and I think the McDonagh Cup could start a week earlier and let Laois or whoever wins it have a couple of nights out to celebrate a great achievement before getting focused on the preliminary quarter-final.
Finally, it’s mad to think there are only seven games left this year but they will tell some tale.