Mark Russell in action against Sligo in the League. Having missed the opening championship game against Waterford due to injury, Tipperary are hopeful Russell will be available for the Limerick game.
The prize, if one could call it that, of a place in the Munster Senior Football Championship final against Kerry in Killarney awaits the winners of the Tipperary v Limerick semi-final clash at FBD Semple Stadium on Saturday evening next. (Throw in 7 pm)
As unpalatable as the prospect of a trip to the Kingdom might seem, to take on a county bidding to win its ninth Munster crown in the last 10 years, Tipperary and Limerick will be giving it their all to secure that provincial final place.
The bookmakers make Tipp slight favourites (5/6) to advance to the decider, perhaps the advantage of playing in Thurles edging the odds in favour of the home side. But to justify that favouritism David Power’s side will be forced to step up significantly against a Limerick side who not alone operated in a division above Tipperary in this year’s league, but ultimately won promotion from Division 3 to Division 2 for 2023.
Tipperary full-back Jimmy Feehan against Carlow in this year's league. David Power will want another big performance from the Killenaule man against Limerick in Thurles on Saturday night.
Significantly that promotion to the second tier of the NFL guarantees the Shannonsiders a place in this year’s Sam Maguire Cup, while for Tipperary they must win on Saturday evening and reach the Munster final to avoid having to play in an inaugural Tailteann Cup.
While Tipperary were operating in Division 4 this year, Limerick under their long-serving and highly regarded manager Billy Lee were chalking up wins against Longford, Antrim, Wicklow, Laois and Fermanagh to secure that unexpected promotion. Their two defeats along the way were to Louth and Westmeath. In the Division 3 final played at Croke Park they lost again to Mickey Harte’s Louth, on the same day that Tipp were losing to Cavan in the Division 4 decider.
Tipperary and Limerick last met in the opening game last year’s league at the Gaelic Grounds on May 15, with the home side edging the victory that night by 1-13 to 0-14. Danny Neville’s terrific goal ultimately swung the pendulum towards the boys in green.
As welcome as that league win was for ‘The Treaty’ one feels they are still smarting from the championship defeat of two years ago at this same semi-final stage.
On that occasion, again at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick led Tipperary by all of seven points at half, 2-6 to 0-5. Lazarus-like Tipperary came back, helped by a Liam Casey goal and an incredible free from the sideline with the outside of the left boot by captain Conor Sweeney to force the game into extra time. Tipp eventually prevailed by 1-15 to 2-11, Brian Fox getting the extra-time winning point. The history and heroics of what was achieved in 2020 and Tipp’s Munster final win, etc., would never have happened had Conor Sweeney not conjured up that piece of absolute magic, under intense pressure. Limerick haven’t forgotten it either and will need no motivation for Saturday.
If a first-ever penalty shootout in Munster Championship football was avoided that night after Limerick missed a close in “mark” at the death, Limerick did make history two weeks ago when beating Clare in Ennis in a unbelieveably exciting quarter- final. Clare went into that game as favourites, having held their own in Division 2 of the league, but Limerick denied them, and will now want to go on again to book their first final place since 2010.
Tipp captain Conor Sweeney against Sligo in this year's league win at Semple Stadium. Limerick haven't forgotten his amazing sideline point that denied them a championship win in 2020.
Saturday’s encounter therefore will be a huge challenge for Tipperary who let’s say, “got the job done”, in their quarter-final clash with Waterford in Dungarvan on April 30. According to manager David Power the performance on the night was “nothing to write home about” but knock-out football is all about getting the result and moving on to the next day. It’s no more than that.
Tipp’s league campaign started poorly and then improved, but without doubt the best performance of the campaign came in the Kingspan Breffni win over Cavan on March 13 when Tipp found their A-game in what in effect was also a knockout game - had Tipperary not won they would not have gained promotion.
That level of performance, and more, will be the baseline marker for Tipperary on Saturday if they are to book themselves a second Munster final place in three years.
At the start of the year the twin peaks of ambition for Tipperary football were promotion and a place in the Sam Maguire Cup. With the former safely bagged since April, the latter will only come if a vast improvement from the Fraher Field display is achieved. But it will be a huge ask.
Tipp are a team in transition since the epic achievement of that win over Cork in a covid-empty Páirc Uí Chaoimh of November 2020. Those who have departed are history now, and the scale of the transition was clear to see with no less than six debutants for the Waterford game.
What will be key for Saturday though will be the lineout with serious doubts about Bill Maher who pulled up against Waterford and Robbie Kiely who didn’t even play that day. Kevin Fahey also went off injured in the Waterford game and he is a concern. Missing any of these, and worse a combination of any, would be a serious blow. On the plus side Mark Russell who missed the championship opener should be able to resume and hopefully with the league form he showed.
So two roads will diverge on Saturday night, hopefully we’ll make the final and a run-out in the Sam Maguire Cup as usual.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.