A Munster final to whet the appetite. Not since 2004 have we had a final like this where you can call the two teams, two real powerhouses of the game.
Back 15 years ago Cork and Waterford were in the Munster final and along with Kilkenny were without doubt the top three teams in the country and had realistic All Ireland aims and this Sunday we have the two front runners for the Liam McCarthy in Limerick and Tipperary.
Go to Ballinahich, Doon, Cappawhite, Garryspillane and they will tell you about the rivalry between these two counties and I feel this final will take that rivalry to new heights with the winners of this game not only being crowned provincial champions but also confirming their status as favourites for hurling’s biggest prize.
Tipperary have looked a very settled side in this year’s championship with 12 players starting all four games and 24 players used in total. However Liam Sheedy goes into Sunday’s game without his enforcer up front in Bonner Maher.
Bonner along with the rest of the team has been rejuvenated since that first game in Cork but his loss is massive for how Tipp’s forward-line functions. He provides a direct running game which cuts open defences as well as drawing players to him creating space for the likes of Callanan and Forde to take up a position to score or set up a play. With how Limerick set up defensively congesting that middle third Bonner’s absence is even greater and puts more emphasis on the others to now stand up.
Cathal Barrett was given the task of marking Aaron Gillane the last day and did a good job before going off injured. The Holycross man is one of the best man markers in the game and it’s yet to be confirmed if he’ll play Sunday but if he does how fit will he be and do you take the chance of putting him below 100% on Limerick’s main man? If he’s available great news for Tipp but if Alan Flynn comes in I believe he will be up for the task with his tight marking no nonsense approach.
Former Tipperary captain Redser O’Grady made a comment during the week to Shane Stapleton in his podcast
#OurGame that putting Brendan Maher on Gillane might be an option. The Borris-Ileigh man had the task of shadowing Tony Kelly in Cusack Park which worked so I wouldn’t rule that idea out.
Having home advantage is huge for Limerick and if it’s a tight game the home support could prove vital in a number of ways including influencing the referee for certain decisions in the heat of it all. It hasn’t been the best of venues for the Premier County recently with their last competitive win there coming in the 2016 Munster Final against Waterford.
Since then (competitive games)
- 0-14 – 3-21 Galway – National League Final
- 2-14 – 1-23 Limerick – 2018 MSHC Round 1
- 2-22 – 2-22 Waterford – 2018 MSHC Round 3
- 1-14 – 1-21 Limerick – 2019 National League
*Also lost to Clare in the Munster Senior League Final this year at the Gaelic Grounds 4-19 – 1-18
On a positive note for Tipp, their U21 team won the All Ireland at the Gaelic Grounds last year.
The middle-third and physical battles
How will the battle around the middle-third unfold?
Limerick’s game plan has been well documented by now that they bring numbers back beyond their 65 to close up the space on the opposing attack.
It’s worked well for them to date so you don’t expect them to change from that approach so it’s a question of how will Liam Sheedy look to break them down especially without Bonner.
Under the high ball the Shannonsiders will be expected to dominate in the back-line so the movement of Tipp’s forwards is crucial. Declan Hannon will come back in at six for the Treaty men and if Bubbles starts at half forward will we see the Adare man being dragged around? Leaving the Killenaule man free is like leaving the door open for burglars, Bubbles given the opportunity will take every chance he gets potentially racking up a big tally.
That head to head could be key around that middle-third but it’s the physical battles that intrigue me most when you have players the size of Kyle Hayes, Gearóid Hegarty and Paudie and Ronan Maher you know hits will be made. You can expect big collisions all over the field but the four men mentioned are the ones to watch out for.
I expect Paudie and Ronan to be put on Hayes and Hegarty. The two Limerick men are vital to Limerick’s setup and Hegarty has been in flying form this year but he comes up against one of two men who won’t shy away from the big occasions. The contest between these lads for the high-ball could be worth the admission fee alone.
It seems to be creeping into the headlines more and more lately in hurling and rightly so but cynical fouling has been around for a long time. The correct term for it in the GAA language would be ‘Cuteness’.
Go back ten years, at the height of their powers Kilkenny players would have had no problem bringing down or stopping players from rushing in on goal to prevent a green flag being raised and momentum being gained. All great teams can smell danger and Limerick and Tipp are no exceptions .
There were some cute fouls conceded the last day out, between these two and I hope we don’t see any on Sunday but if the game is tight and a team is in danger more than likely we will see someone being dragged down, so the officials will have to be vigilant. There will be no holding back in this game and how the referee sets the tone early on will be significant to how this game goes.