SUNDAY: Munster hurling semi-final: Tipperary v Limerick, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 4pm.
LIMERICK would have to be seen as having a slight advantage coming into this game with that theory being based on the fact that they have a championship game behind them already.
Tipperary, on the other hand, have not had a competitive outing for over seven months and there might be a bit of rustiness to cope with before they get into full flow again.
Of course, that might not be the case at all but in Limerick’s emphatic victory over Clare last Sunday it took them a while before they became the assertive force. At half-time in that game, Clare were very much in the chase but once Limerick moved up through the gears there was going to be only one outcome.
In normal circumstances, this would be a sell-out before the two teams that are regarded to be ahead of the rest in the race for the All-Ireland title next month.
But it will be played in front of empty stands and terraces in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and how big a factor that is we just don’t know.
Certainly, in the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday, the contest sometimes resembled a challenge encounter in the first-half before, mainly through Limerick’s excellence, things got much better thereafter.
Tipperary go in here with the knowledge that they must be off the blocks quickly and not allow Limerick to build up any sort of a decent advantage.
You just cannot allow a side of Limerick’s prowess to get a head start on you and we saw how they ripped Clare asunder when they turned over after the half-time break.
Tipperary, of course, will be a different proposition altogether to what Clare were and they are not All-Ireland champions for nothing.
Limerick own the bragging rights between the sides going into this game insofar as they won the league outing when the sides last met before the initial lockdown. They also won the Munster final between the sides last summer but that stood for very little afterward when Tipp claimed the much bigger prize.
Limerick were awesome in seeing off Clare, particularly in attack where they scored in the second-half almost at will.
In total they had 11 different scorers from the half-back line out where Diarmuid Byrnes posted three fine points.
It was a total team performance in the second-half although the concession of the Clare goal, which was well executed by Ryan Taylor, will not have pleased John Kiely.
As we move further into the championship the absence from the full-back line of Richie English and Mike Casey could be felt.
And Tipperary have the forwards to capitalise on any deficiencies in that sector with Seamus Callanan and John McGrath always ready to pounce.
Whereas Clare were almost solely dependent on Tony Kelly to secure their scores, Tipperary have others such as Jason Forde and Jake Morris to do the business.
The return of Bonner Maher is another huge plus in a side that will match Limerick in the physical stakes.
Pádraic Maher at centre-back and Brendan Maher at midfield ensures that this is a very well-balanced Tipp team.
The experience of Noel McGrath in attack is another factor and team boss Liam Sheedy will want to take the direct route this time and avoid any potentially tricky games in the qualifiers.
Of course, John Kiely will be thinking along similar lines.
Going back to the defeat of Cork in 2018, Limerick are seen to have the greater squad depth and that was evident again last Sunday with Seamus Flanagan, Darragh O’Donovan and Pat Ryan coming in.
Limerick’s scoring options were seen to great effect against Clare but Tipp are not short either in that department.
Tipp will try to exploit the loss of English and Mike Casey in the Limerick full-back line and that will see them trying to get the ball into Callanan and John McGrath and others.
Gearoid Hegarty came into his own when it mattered the last day as did Kyle Hayes and Limerick do appear to have the greater options if one of their starters has an off day.
Potentially, this is a fascinating encounter and hugely difficult to nail down.
Both sides are expected to win in their own counties so there won’t be any surprise at the outcome.
Based on their display against Clare and the ability to switch on when required plus their bench resources, we’ll give Limerick the slight edge.
- Verdict: Limerick