WHILE it’s a sign of the competitive nature of Munster hurling, it still seems surprising that one has to go back to 1989 for the last time a county claimed three senior provincial titles on the trot.
Since Michael ‘Babs’ Keating’s Tipperary side did the three-in-a-row – losing two All-Ireland finals before finally ended an 18-year wait in the same period – seven teams have begun a year with a chance to emulate them, but only Clare (1999) have managed to even make it to the Munster final, with Ger Loughnane’s side falling to Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Cork on that occasion.
Limerick are the eighth different side who have had the opportunity to necklace three together and John Kiely’s side have fared better than Cork (2001, 2007 and 2018), Tipperary (2010, 2013 and 2017) in getting to within 70 minutes of the silverware. Incidentally, it had been expected that the Shannonsiders would be seeking to lift a new Munster hurling trophy, named after the county’s great talisman Mick Mackey, but the inauguration of that trophy has been delayed until 2022.
The bookmakers make the reigning Munster, league and All-Ireland champions warm favourites to retain their provincial crown and it’s not hard to argue with such a sentiment. Having taken what Cork could throw at them, including a ten-minute period where they were a man down, Limerick struck decisively with two goals before half-time that proved to be the winning of the game; against Clare, Tipp were wavering early in the second half until the awarding of a contentious penalty led to a momentum-shifting goal before they made the most of the time where they had an extra player.
Two years ago, the sides met in the Munster final, with Limerick winning that only to come a cropper in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny while Tipp came through the back door to win the Liam MacCarthy in Liam Sheedy’s first year back in charge. However, despite winning the last All-Ireland U21 title in 2018 and the first U20 championship in 2019, Tipp have yet to see the fruits of those victories at senior apart from Jake Morris.
It would be difficult to see them win another All-Ireland via the scenic route, but even so, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Limerick will be too strong. Against Cork, they had 11 different scorers and it says much about the way their bench can impact games that subs Graeme Mulcahy and David Reidy scoring just a piece apiece felt like a paltry return.
Kyle Hayes’s move to left half-back has given them an extra dimension, evidenced by his goal against Cork, and the placement of Barry Nash in the full-back line is another long-range weapon in the artillery. It says to opponents that they have to defend from the front if they want to Limerick’s sporting prowess, but of course by doing that they risk dulling their own attacking senses.
Limerick scored 2-22 against Cork, down on the kinds of tallies they posted in 2020, but that was still enough to win by eight. Tipp did manage 3-23 in their semi-final, albeit with the benefit of the sin-bin, and you get the sense that they will need to match that if they are to claim the title for the first time since 2016.
It could happen, of course – an attack with Séamus Callanan, John O’Dwyer and Jason Forde is always capable of posting large totals – but Limerick have the tools to win a shootout. While Cathal Barrett did fairly well marking Tony Kelly the last day, Limerick have too many shooters to adequately shut down and look to have more depth available to them if reinforcements are needed when the fat is in the fire. The three in a row beckons.