Unbackable favourites but Tipperary as always must be wary of Limerick threat

As reigning champs - and unbackable favourites - Tipperary launches its bid for a third provincial title in a row with a trip to the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday. It’s a repeat of last year’s Munster opener but we’ll hope for a smoother passage this time against the Treaty men.

As reigning champs - and unbackable favourites - Tipperary launches its bid for a third provincial title in a row with a trip to the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday. It’s a repeat of last year’s Munster opener but we’ll hope for a smoother passage this time against the Treaty men.

Meanwhile the U21s have signposted the way for the seniors with their win over Limerick last Friday evening. Apart from a rocky third quarter it was otherwise smooth.

Elsewhere the draw for the preliminary round of the club championship has tossed up some interesting pairings, Sarsfields against Nenagh the most eye-catching of the lot.

Here comes the summer and here goes the championship. Clare and Waterford launched the series last Sunday with a low-key affair at the Stadium.

Davy’s ‘banner’ took some time to unfurl but once it did the Deise resistance was untypically limp. One is tempted to see the outcome as a changing of the guard: Waterford’s decline alongside Clare’s emerging young guns.

Hopefully there’ll be no such turnover next Sunday. All known indicators have resulted in Tipperary going in as the hottest of favourites.

We’re listed at odds of 2/7 while you’ll get 3/1 on Limerick causing an upset.

The pundits, therefore, see only one outcome though some of us have been around long enough to know that Limerick on their day can be awkward customers, so wariness has to be the byword.

It will be intriguing to see the line-out that Eamon O’Shea and colleagues send into action. Trying to anticipate the team sheet throughout the league proved a treacherous business as the management opted for ongoing variation. The word ‘predictable’ was redundant throughout the spring.

It’s a policy that certainly stirs debate. On the one hand it keeps things fresh and fluid with no shortage of variety and no room for complacency. Against that you sacrifice stability with players at times unsure of their whereabouts in the overall scheme.

Some element of experimentation is always necessary but ultimately the goal has to be a settled formation.

We’ve had rotating goalies throughout the league but surely that won’t continue for the championship. Brendan Cummins reportedly made two exceptional saves against Galway at Cloughjordan last week, which was indeed a timely statement by the long-time tenant.

He’ll surely man the last line of defence on Sunday to start yet another championship season in an exceptional career.

Paddy Stapleton played for Borrisoleigh last week so we’d expect him to take his place on Sunday beside Paul Curran and Michael Cahill on the full back line.

Kieran Bergin versus Conor O’Brien is the big issue arising at half back. Conor had probably his best ever league campaign this year while Kieran was the ‘springer’ who took us all by surprise in the league final.

The vibe appears to suggest that Killenaule will overshadow Annacarty in this one, which, if it happens, will be really tough on Conor O’Brien given his recent form. There’s also the issue of whether Conor O’Mahony or Paudie Maher will start at number six; in one sense it’s not a huge issue because they can juggle positions throughout the game if the need arises.

Paudie is seen as a floating, covering player who hits a huge amount of ball over the game, though perhaps not the tightest of markers; Conor is more the positional player who can do a tight man-to-man job if needed.

The midfield partnership is again likely to involve Brendan Maher and Shane McGrath. Maher is a certainty but opinions would vary more on McGrath. Still as captain he’ll surely start the championship.

Lar Corbett’s fight for fitness is a major focus in attack. He’s reportedly close to full health though I suspect he’ll not be risked for the start of the action and will be kept in reserve should the need arise during the game.

There are roughly ten forwards battling for the six positions and it’s probably an issue of getting the right balance between experience and youth.

Players like Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and John O’Brien are all likely starters and then there’s the issue of whether to play Eoin Kelly or the likes of Shane Bourke, Jason Forde, John O’Dwyer or Brian O’Meara. Pa Bourke appears to have slipped down the ranking at this stage.

All of that is speculation by one operating outside the loop so we’ll just have to wait and see if Eamonn O’Shea and company spring more surprises when the line out is announced later in the week.

Limerick’s only Munster championship win in the past decade was the ’07 victory over Tipperary in a second replay; you have to trawl back to 1996 to view their last Munster title win.

This year they suffered the disappointment of losing to Dublin in the division 1B decider so once more they failed to win promotion to the top flight. That background obviously influences the long odds being offered on a Limerick win next Sunday

However, it’s no harm to remind ourselves of last year’s game at Semple Stadium and the difficulties we experienced before eventually pulling through.

Having trailed by a point at the interval we were really rattled in the third quarter as Limerick went seven-up.

It took a late rally for Tipp to rescue the game, Brian O’Meara’s goal being the crucial item as we eventually won by four. Relief was the dominant emotion afterwards.

Limerick have that potential to belie expectations and they particularly relish tussles with Tipperary. Not conceding early encouragement to the Treaty men I’m sure will be a theme of Eamon O’Shea’s dressing room address.

On known form Tipperary will be expected to prevail but nothing can be presumed in championship hurling.

The counties’ intermediates open proceedings at the Gaelic Grounds. For Tipperary that means an entirely new line-up from last year’s successful team. Effectively you’re searching for an alternative intermediate side which clearly stacks the odds against the team and makes retention of the title very difficult.

Still with players from senior clubs eligible and given the size of our county they should be competitive. Good luck to both sides.

That U21 win last Friday evening was a timely mood-setter for the upcoming senior event. Limerick would have taken obvious encouragement from success here and one sensed they were hopeful given their large quota of senior panellists on duty.

However, Tipp discouraged them early on with quite a slick display, though there was a worrying third quarter before Jason Forde’s goal settled nerves and the home strait was stress-free for the locals.

The first half was a dominant one from the blue and gold brigade with scarcely a blemish to be noted as they built an interval edge of ten points. All over we were on top with a spread of scorers to be admired.

The accumulation of points eventually got endorsement with Aidan McCormack’s goal from a Jason Forde lay-off. Earlier Forde had sent a ‘penalty’ screaming just over the timber after Dan McCormack was brought down near goal.

It was all velvety smooth from Tipperary and I can imagine that the Limerick lads got some half time ribbing from T.J. Ryan and colleagues. They certainly came out in altered mood for the second half and, helped by a few substitutions, the mood music was now quite different. Suddenly they were coming at Tipperary, the shackles were off and they were having a go. And it unsettled the home side. The lead began to dwindle alarmingly and then came a turning point.

Limerick will claim that Shane Dowling deserved a ‘penalty’ but instead a free out was the refereeing verdict. Dissention brought a booking and the free was moved forward. When play switched to the town goal there was Liam McGrath feeding Jason Forde for our second goal. In a twinkling the game was over.

Was it a ‘penalty’ or did the referee get it right? It’s debatable and I suppose the best one can say is that it was one of those marginals which could have gone either way. On this occasion we got the benefit and at that particular juncture it was a game-changer. Still the home side dominated for over three-quarters of the game so I don’t think there can be much quibble about the outcome.

In a sense it was a game which highlighted the difference between Tipperary and Limerick hurling. The Shannonsiders feed off adrenaline and when they get on a roll can be difficult to stop. Tipperary by comparison rely on a high content of slick skill which can look classy in full flow but can be vulnerable when knocked off stride.

From a senior perspective it was encouraging to see the excellent form of Jason Forde, score-maker and score-getter. Limerick will surely see more of him on Sunday. Tomas Hamill, the other senior panellist, played a calm, steady game at half back. It was good too to see John Meagher making an entry late in the action; his career has been dogged by interruptions from injury and illness. For a side that carried low expectations they acquitted themselves admirably and, like last year, one suspects won’t be easily beaten.

Sixteen clubs throughout the county watched anxiously as the preliminary draw for the county championship was made last week. These are the teams that failed to make divisional semi-finals and there was quite a countywide spread of entries including nine from the North, four from the Mid, two West and Davins from the South.

There’s no denying the headline pairing to emerge was that of Sarsfields and Nenagh Eire Og. The reigning county and Munster champs are in this pickle after losing twice in the Mid and they’ve now drawn a side that would surely be rated in the top ten countywide. It should be quite a clash when they go head-to-head.

Davins have drawn Burgess which is certainly not the worst draw for the South side. The two West sides will find the going tough. Golden have been paired with last year’s North champions, Portroe, while Cashel K.C. will square up to Roscrea.

Boherlahan in the Mid have a tough draw against Templederry while their neighbours, Holycross, will feel happier with Moneygall in the opposite corner. The remaining Mid side, J.K. Bracken’s, will face Lorrha while there’s one all-North pairing in Kilruane v. Borrisokane. I understand all of these games are being played the weekend after next with the losers entering the O’Riain Cup while the winners advance to play the defeated divisional semi-finalists in the Dan Breen championship.