Tipperary desperate to get hands on Munster crown, says former talisman

Eoin Kelly believes county can make it third time lucky against Limerick

Eoin Kelly for the first time this millennium will have a different perspective on Tipperary’s opening Munster championship fixture.

Having retired before his 33rd birthday, the third highest scorer in the history of championship hurling, with 21-368, is looking in from the outside at Sunday’s match with Limerick – a rivalry that had family resonance for him, as it involved crossing hurls with his cousins Niall and Ollie Moran.

It was also the fixture that saw him shoot scores at the rate of one every five minutes in 2006 and also the one in which he hit his last Munster championship point, from a free in the 65th minute of the provincial semi-final two years ago.

No real regrets

Speaking at yesterday’s launch of the Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour Series, which will see him host a tour of Croke Park later in the summer, Kelly said there were no real regrets at the decision to call it a day.

“The week up to it, you probably would miss it, seeing it advertised on TV and that. You would miss it, there’s no point saying you don’t.

“Going to the match on Sunday is probably the thing you’ll miss the most; I’ll see what that’s like.

“Common sense: I wasn’t playing. We played Limerick the last two years and I saw seven or eight or 10 minutes. We played Kilkenny three times last year between league and two All-Irelands and I saw maybe six or seven minutes.

“I mean, your time’s up and on you go. You see the young fellas now and the way they’re moving; it’s all pace.”

For the past two years this has been a frustrating match for Tipperary, who have lost in both the Gaelic Grounds and Thurles simply by not finishing out the contests strongly enough.

Kelly believes that this sequence will change at the weekend, a combination of his own county’s desire and what he perceives as a slight regression on the part of Limerick.

“I don’t think they are going as well as they were last year. But they have a championship game under their belt and scored 1-19 when three or four of their forwards that you’d expect to hurl well didn’t hurl well.

That’s a sign

“On Sunday, [though] I think Tipp. Because I think they’re more focused this time around for Limerick than the last two years. Why am I saying that? They were in Carton House last weekend. Usually they’re there before an All-Ireland or a Munster final. So that’s a sign.

“I heard myself during the week that he [Tipp manager Eamon O’Shea] said openly in the paper that ‘we’re going to Limerick to win’.

“That’s not usually Eamon’s line. Eamon is usually saying ‘we have great belief in the squad and we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead’.”

There is a danger that if previous setbacks are simply ascribed to complacency or lack of focus – he cites from two years ago players forgetting things or not being fully ready when promoted to the match-day squad – the pressure to prevent a third successive defeat by Limerick for the first time in nearly 70 years will increase.

Kelly, however, thinks that his former colleagues have the game to make it happen on Sunday.

“Tipp like space and movement and Limerick will want it congested, so that’s the battle. If Séamus Callanan is not seeing a lot of ball inside, get him into the game at centre forward because he can play equally as well there. I know last year he was top class at full forward and was the danger man.

Taken to the cleaners

“It’s gas about Richie McCarthy [Limerick’s full back] – people saying he is there to be taken to the cleaners, but he hasn’t been. He is that kind of robust physical player and they protect that ‘D’ zone.

“Tipp have to create space and if they are not getting them inside they have to go outside and they have the players to score from outside. Bubbles [John O’Dwyer] and Callanan would score as easily from 70 yards as they would from 21 yards. If it’s not working after 10 minutes if Séamie starts inside, and I don’t know that he will, they’ll need to free those guys up to shoot and score.”

Does the increasingly impotent record of Munster champions in All-Ireland competition – no wins in 10 years – affect the ambition?

“No way. I guarantee you now that Tipperary want that Munster title more so than anything because it’s looked upon as a prestigious championship.

“The Munster final is one of the biggest days in the year and you want to be involved in that. Every team starting out wants to win it.”

Seán Flynn

Seán Flynn

The late Seán Flynn was education editor of The Irish Times