Limerick expect different challenge from Tipp in Thurles
Plenty of signs in the All-Ireland champions’ win over Clare that they are getting back on track
Limerick’s Seán Finn against Clare at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images
They came on a trapdoor and left on a springboard. As inconceivable as John Kiely felt it was for Limerick to be out of the championship by last Sunday, the full reprise of the All-Ireland hurling champions will likely be played out this Sunday in Thurles.
There were plenty of tell-tale signs in their 18-point win over Clare at the Gaelic Grounds: the range and accuracy of their 11 different scorers; the harassing and turnover of possession; the biceps and armour-plated pecs bursting from every one of the Limerick jerseys.
Those jerseys may or may not have been slim fitting, but defender Sean Finn possibly needed some assistance when getting his off. Their All-Star corner back is not alone in being in super physical condition, and also set the standard for the team with his near faultless defensive display on Sunday; Clare’s main forward threat John Conlon was anonymous, and none of Clare’s three inside forwards managed a score. Clare didn’t score at all from play until the 30th minute.
“That’s our job,” said Finn. “The forwards are there to score, and we are there to minimise the score. And we have to put our body on the line whenever we can.
“Tipp are in great form with three great results, and it’s a great test for us to see what we are about. It was a tough two weeks after losing to Cork. We took it badly, but we worked hard and there was probably a bit of tension in that couple of weeks because we knew we didn’t put in the performance we could have. We just weren’t at the races and we knew it.”
Indeed Tipperary are bound to present a different sort of challenge in Thurles: unquestionably the form team of the Munster championship so far, they’ve scored 7-79 in their three unbeaten games, conceding 1-59.
Limerick are next best positioned with their 4-61 for and 1-49 against, but ultimately a victory for Limerick may be required to ensure their place in the Munster final. Tipp could possible lose and still make it.
“Tipp are the team to beat at the moment, no doubt. We’ll look forward to that test, a huge challenge” added Finn, the Bruff man one of six Limerick players to earn their first All-Star last season.
“All the games are high pressure, but Sunday was a significant one too because there is a huge rivalry between ourselves and Clare. Every year is a big game between us because neither wants to lose.
“There were two points up for grabs. We knew they were two big points that were up for grabs, a huge game because if we lost it we were out. We put in a poor performance here three weeks ago against Cork. We have guys fighting for their place on the team. I’m fighting for my place on the team. The half-back line are fighting for a place on the team, and that competitive edge brings more to the panel and the team.
“It’s great to see the likes of Shane [Dowling], Seamus [Flanagan] and Darragh [O’Donovan] coming on and bringing something to the table. This is a huge relief. We took a few beatings from them [Clare] and last year down in Ennis went badly, and maybe people were writing us off after the league, saying we couldn’t keep it up, but we can only concentrate on ourselves.”
No way back
It would have been a very different scene had Limerick lost to Clare, which would have left them with no way back. Finn pointed to both the need to improve again on the win over Waterford, and the sense Clare were owed a bit of a beating, having won their previous three championship matches.
Limerick finished with 11 different scorers on Sunday, all but eight of their 1-28 coming from play.
“The forwards worked really hard and that made my life a lot easier down in the full-back line. They put in a huge shift,” said Finn. “Winning breeds results, and that momentum continues throughout the championship as we saw last year.”
Kiely could not look past Clare last Sunday; the Limerick manager knows exactly where he is going this Sunday. “We’ve got one of the best forward units [to play against] in the country next Sunday. Those Tipp lads only need a smell of a chance and it’s over the bar. They’ll shoot from anywhere, on half a chance, and they don’t delay in getting their shots off.
“The only thing that bothered me was we were out if we lost to Clare. The consequences of it being a Munster final or anything else is irrelevant right now. We want to go to Thurles and put in a really creditable, honest performance against one of the best teams in the country right now.”
Note: stand tickets for Thurles on Sunday are sold out.