Nicky English: Limerick’s second-half form won’t be matched by any team

When Cian Lynch got support in the second half he really began to pull the strings

Limerick’s Diarmuid Byrnes with the Mick Mackey Cup after winning  the Munster    championship final. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Limerick’s Diarmuid Byrnes with the Mick Mackey Cup after winning the Munster championship final. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

In 2019 Tipperary came out of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick having probably played a lot worse than they did this Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and they ultimately went on to win the All-Ireland. Coming out of the stadium yesterday, it was hard to imagine that happening again. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Limerick winning it.

I had some doubts in Limerick after their performance against Cork and in the first half yesterday it looked like those doubts were well-founded. Tipperary were completely dominant in all areas of the field, Jason Forde was giving an absolute masterclass and the team’s scoring was just phenomenal.

Meanwhile, Limerick were looking quite heavy-legged, in all sorts of trouble and needing to bring on Dan Morrissey and Aaron Gillane. Little did we know they would play a major role in the Limerick revival.

The only man capable of making any inroads for Limerick during the first half was Cian Lynch, though he had some assistance from Declan Hannon and Kyle Hayes. But given the way that Tipperary can score, I thought it was a huge mountain for Limerick to climb at half-time. Tipperary had already scored 2-16, and I thought it was eminently possible that they would score a minimum of 3-25 or 3-26. As it turned out they were beaten 2-17 to 1-5 after the break.

Limerick started the second half like a train and Lynch completely took over. He conducted the orchestra and produced one of the best displays I’ve seen from him. He’s a genius. He was playing well when the rest of them weren’t and in the second half when he got some support he really began to pull the strings.

In fairness, Hayes also turned up and the goal he scored was easily one of the finest I’ve seen on any pitch. The athleticism he showed as he galloped up along the line, leaving Dan McCormack in his wake, was on another level.

Running on empty

Tipperary did begin to use their bench but maybe they should have thrown those players into the game a little earlier because they were already running on empty. But the form Limerick showed in the second half wouldn’t have been matched, and I doubt it will be matched by any team in the championship.

Before heading for Cork I was in Thurles on Saturday afternoon for Clare’s victory over Wexford. Ultimately, Clare will take a lot from the victory but they still need to improve if they are to progress further.

Wexford were slow out of the blocks on the day and went out more or less without a full-forward line. An outstanding point from Cathal Dunbar from the sideline in the middle of the field illustrated where Wexford were lacking in that first half when Clare sprinted out ahead. He had no choice but to shoot for a point. There was nobody inside. When they varied it a bit and went longer with Lee Chin and Conor McDonald at the edge of the square, they looked more dangerous. But at that stage they had already dug a huge hole for themselves.

The Kilkenny team applauding their captain during his speech at Croke Park after the Leinster senior championship final. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho
The Kilkenny team applauding their captain during his speech at Croke Park after the Leinster senior championship final. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

Then, unlike the Munster final, the Leinster decider was really disappointing. I was very interested in seeing if Kilkenny could confirm the impression they had created against Wexford. They were quite good that day and they were good again for the first few minutes on Saturday. It was a whirlwind start for them.

But they lost their way and struggled to win any ball around the middle third. Dublin completely dominated the area with Danny Sutcliffe, Liam Rushe, Chris Crummey and all the other usual suspects controlling the game.

Despite the loss I think Dublin will take plenty from it. It’s been a really good season for them, all things considered. They scored freely against Antrim, they had a big win against Galway, and they had ample excuse for Saturday.

Their preparations were rocked with the Covid absentees and I didn’t think it was very wise to start Eoghan O’Donnell. As a former hamstring sufferer, I didn’t see any way he could be right in two weeks.

But they will be awkward for anybody in the quarter-final. For them, now it’s about finding scores. In most games you have to be able to put 30 points on the board and I don’t think they’re likely to get that against the best opposition. Maybe Oisín O’Rorke coming back can help in this area. Donal Burke was also a bit fitful on the frees and they really need to be 100 per cent perfect from placed balls.

Strong at the back

That said, we didn’t see much in an attacking sense from Kilkenny either. But they were strong at the back. Huw Lawlor was outstanding, Paddy Deegan did a lot of solid hurling and James Maher slowly but surely got to grips with Sutcliffe. They pulled away and won, with the penalty being the final death knell, but it wasn’t much of a step on from the Wexford performance.

At the same time they are in an All-Ireland semi-final and I would never rule them out or underestimate them. Whoever plays them next will still have to go out and beat them, and they won’t give it up easily.

After the game I initially thought that maybe there will be no really outstanding team this year and that the team that goes out and just gets it done will suffice. And Kilkenny will get it done. That’s the way they roll.

But Limerick subsequently hit form, and that’s ominous for the rest of the pack.

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