Full strength Tipperary the strong favourites against unknown quantity Limerick

Another year and another championship season dawns, with Tipperary hosting Limerick in a Munster opener. The bookies have us raging favourites, though experienced observers will be more wary of Limerick’s potential. The footballers complete the day’s programme with a daunting assignment against Kerry.

Another year and another championship season dawns, with Tipperary hosting Limerick in a Munster opener. The bookies have us raging favourites, though experienced observers will be more wary of Limerick’s potential. The footballers complete the day’s programme with a daunting assignment against Kerry.

A quick glance at the Paddy Power website underlines the extent of Tipperary’s favouritism. We’re listed at odds of 1/6 whereas Limerick are available at 9/2. I suppose those figures reflect the contrasting fates of the counties in recent years. While Tipperary have been contesting All- Ireland finals Limerick have been languishing in the background. Known form then favours Tipperary, though big championship days can often mock presumptions.

Tipperary’s championship preamble wasn’t encouraging. An undistinguished league series ended badly with that heavy fall to Cork, a fall that was set in very stark profile indeed when set against the league final outcome. The recriminations that followed were unhelpful, though recent weeks have seen a noticeable lifting of the gloom. Lar’s re-entry has helped but the return from injury of several others has been hugely significant also.

One assumes Lar will not feature on Sunday even as a sub. I was interested in Vincent Hogan’s piece last week in the Irish Independent suggesting that if Lar impacts on this summer’s series it will make a mockery of those winter training regimes. Of course Lar won’t be the first to give the lie to the belief that you have to torture the body during the winter in order to excel in the summer – Tony Browne has been doing it for years.

Lar aside, it’s encouraging that Declan Ryan and colleagues have their strongest pick of the year available for this championship opener. Paul Curran, ‘Bonner’ Maher and Seamie Callanan are all fit to resume so the options are more plentiful. One suspects only about three positions will involve deep deliberation by the management before announcing the side on Thursday night.

At 37 years young Brendan Cummins embarks on yet another championship mission. He may have been pushed by Darren Gleeson at times during the league but he remains the number one with the best package of attributes for this last line of defence.

Two-thirds of the full back line, namely Curran and Cahill, will be pencilled in automatically. Donagh Maher is likely to complete the trio to become the only championship debutant on the side. He’s helped by an ongoing groin injury to Paddy Stapleton.

Likewise at half-back two thirds of the formation is automatic, viz O’Mahony and Padraic Maher. The number five jersey has by now become a nuisance item on this team. In the latter stages of the league Thomas Stapleton seemed to be the favoured one but the latest impression suggests that John O’Keeffe is in line for promotion. Shane Maher and Conor O’Brien are pushing hard for defensive roles also but will probably have to be content with the subs’ bench.

Midfield is likely to feature Brendan Maher and either James Woodlock or Shane McGrath. Woodlock was getting the nod during the league and that impression remains, despite encouraging form by McGrath in recent weeks. There’s some concern about Brendan Maher’s form so his input will be keenly watched on Sunday.

For the first time this year there are several options available in attack. ‘Bonner’ Maher’s return has been impressive and he’s seen as a likely starter to add that vital element of graft to our offensive end. He’ll be accompanied on the half line by Noel McGrath and possibly either Gearoid Ryan or Pa Bourke. The Sarsfields’ man had a strong league campaign while Gearoid Ryan was struggling with his form; yet past reputation might sway it for the Templederry man. Another outside possibility is to position Gearoid Ryan at midfield to the exclusion of either Woodlock or Shane McGrath but that looks less likely. Seamus Callanan is ready and right for action but the suggestion is that he may be held back for impact later in the game.

The full forward line is likely to feature John O’Brien, Eoin Kelly and Brian O’Meara. That raises the question of positioning, with both Kelly and O’Meara more suited to full than corner. I suspect Kelly will claim the number fourteen jersey, though in any case forward positioning nowadays tends to be more fluid as players shuffle during the course of a game.

Overall it’s sure to be a much stronger formation than any we fielded during the league. Last Thursday the team played Wexford in a challenge at the Stadium, a game that has become controversial, not for anything which happened on-field but rather the closing of the gates to visitors. I’ve heard a lot of indignation over the move, with reports of even a few Wexford visitors being denied entry after their long journey. The word from the team’s perspective is that they needed a night away from prying eyes, especially after the circus that surrounded the return of Lar Corbett. It’s an argument that leaves me unconvinced. We’ve had this debate in the past about closed gates and blacked-out buses and it was as badly received then as it is now. The handful of loyal followers who attend training sessions are surely the last ones we should be offending.

A major help to Limerick facing this game is the level of low expectation both within and without the county. In the eyes of some they’re no-hopers and that can be used as a motivational tool where they go out and have a lash with little to lose. After the travails of past years the Shannonsiders are building for the future so winning here is no imperative. The injury to Seamus Hickey is a blow, especially with Declan Hannon also in the recovery stage and unlikely to start on Sunday. Their loss to Clare in the league was a setback.

At this stage the Limerick team is not that well known to Tipperary followers. We last played them in the championship in the All-Ireland semi-final of ’09, which turned out to be a day of horror for the Shannonsiders. Prior to that there was the three-game saga of ’07, a more pleasant memory for Limerick folk.

This time their team has a youthful flavour with several U-21s on board. Nicky Quaid, son of that fine goalie of former times, the late Tommy, has been net-minding very capably; another sibling, Tommy junior, is on the bench. Corner back, Tom Condon, was one to catch the eye last year and Brian Geary at full back is no stranger either. The same could be said for Donal O’Grady on the half line, a line that might also feature Gavin O’Mahony and Wayne McNamara.

James Ryan and Paul Browne is a useful midfield pair while in attack we’ll need to keep a sharp eye on the likes of Shane Dowling and team captain David Breen. Others we’re likely to notice on Sunday are Graham Mulcahy, Niall Moran, Kevin Downes, Sean Tobin and Conor Allis, son of Jim Allis from Doon whom some of us will recall from the seventies.

Whatever about the odds Limerick tend to relish a shot at Tipperary and we have plenty of memories of difficult games against them in the past. I suspect they don’t quite know where they stand in the scheme of things after their league experience and the same could be said of Tipperary. Sunday then should be instructive for both sides. Past form would point to a Tipperary win and here’s hoping the media won’t be carrying headlines about a shock on Sunday evening.

What a difference a few months can make to a club. Last winter Cashel King Cormacs were in a battle for senior survival. They eventually won that tussle, first in the boardroom and then on the playing pitch against Ballybacon\Grange. Now they’re through to the West semi-finals of 2012 and in the process have copper-fastened their senior status for another year.

Friday night last at Golden saw the King Cormacs earn their senior stripes against a spirited resistance from Aherlow. The stakes were high for both clubs and the result was a feisty contest, one in which Cashel seemed to be in cruise control at one stage but ultimately had to battle to the wire to ensure a margin that would take them direct to the semis. For Aherlow there’s now a quarter-final play-off tie with Kickhams.

A damp evening left the underfoot conditions greasy, as this pair waded into the contest from the time Tom McGrath tossed in the sliotar. Instantly Cashel had a major lodgement when Turlough Bonnar (Cormac’s son) fetched a high one, beat his opponent and hit the rigging. It was the opening salvo in a promising half from the King Cormacs, who would eventually lead by six at the break. That healthy position owed a lot to the excellent hurling of Simon Delaney and a very compact defensive unit where John Darmody especially caught the eye and Lee Burke was rock solid at centre. Against that defensive shield Aherlow could manage a mere four points, Sean Dillon hitting three from frees and the hard-working Paddy Hennessy getting their solitary flag from open play.

At that stage Cashel seemed to have more hurling craft, with Dylan Fitzell hitting a pair of points and four of their forwards getting on the score card. The third quarter saw no great shift in power, though Cashel’s score rate dropped significantly. Jonathan Grogan remained excellent on frees but none of the forwards would raise a flag from play in the second half.

Aherlow refused to yield and kept battling with admirable grit. Eventually they were rewarded when Sean Dillon whipped in a goal and at the very death a Cathal O’Shea free dipped all the way to the net. The lead was back to two points amid queries about whether a two or three point win was necessary to put Cashel ahead of Golden on score difference and directly into the semi-finals. In the event a late Jonathan Grogan ‘65’ wrapped it up as a three-point win and Cashel were home and hosed.

It’s a comfortable position for the King Cormacs, who can now relax and prepare for a semi-final date later in the summer secure in their status for next year. The inequity of the system countywide won’t escape comment. By topping a three-team group featuring Golden and Aherlow, Cashel secure their status with a semi-final placing. Contrast that with the route others have to navigate.

P.S. I suppose it ranks as a type of Freudian slip. Vincent Hogan in that article on Lar Corbett last week alluded to Tipperary training in Dr. Clifford Park. The man would be chuffed, I’m sure, though, Tom Morris might have something to say about it.