John McGrath’s position in the Tipperary team could come under scrutiny ahead of Sunday’s Munster senior hurling final against Limerick
Munster finals have lost some of their gloss since the abolition of the unforgiving knockout championship, but they still retain a certain glamour. It’s a final after all with a trophy and a rich tradition, so provincial medals will always feature on a player’s CV as items of pride.
However, it doesn’t define your year any more. In the bigger All- Ireland picture, the provincial winners are now only a footnote in the narrative. Who cares, for example, that only one of our last three All-Ireland wins was embellished by an accompanying Munster trophy?
There might be a temptation then to be slightly blasé about Sunday’s game were it not for the opposition. The Limerick shadow looms large in our recent history, replacing Kilkenny as the bogey man. They’ve found our measure and however difficult it is to spit out those words it remains an unpalatable fact of life.
The evidence is painful. Need we dwell on last year’s drenching at Páirc Uí Chaoimh or the near embarrassment of the previous year’s Munster final at the Gaelic Grounds? Since he took charge Mrs Kiely’s son has had the whip hand on Tipperary and it’s not pleasant viewing from this side of the border.
Some atonement then would be welcome on Sunday but neither the bookies nor most pundits give Tipperary much chance. The reigning champions, chasing three in-a-row, are odds on at 2/5 against a generous 9/4 for Tipperary.
All known form suggests that Limerick are ahead and it’s up to the team on Sunday to challenge such perceptions. Pride alone suggests they’ll give it all.
Manager, Liam Sheedy, will certainly throw everything at the task. One suspects that the manager is the type who’d hate to lose a game of skittles, not to mention a Munster hurling final. Driven by passion, one senses that he never looks beyond the next game and the desire to win it.
That philosophy certainly seems to underpin his team selections, where there’s been a heavy emphasis on the tried and trusted. Some new lads got game time during the league and the likes of Paddy Cadell and Brian McGrath made a decent impression.
However, when it came to championship the manager went back to the known and proven. The newbies have to wait another day.
We can expect little change then in the team that lines up at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday. The exception might be John McGrath, whose ongoing indifferent form is an item of major concern.
At the peak of his powers McGrath would be an automatic on the team sheet but that peak is some way in the distance now and whether to start him on Sunday will, I’m sure, be one of the main items to occupy the management when they make their selection this week.
If McGrath is excluded then what are the options? Alan Flynn was probably unlucky not to start against Clare and he must be one of the leading contenders. His inclusion would involve a shuffle with, perhaps, Noel McGrath reverting to attack and Flynn coming in at midfield. As always positions are fluid anyway in the heave and sway of a game, so options are available.
Niall O’Meara has recovered from that appendix operation so he too could come into the equation. He played a full challenge game recently against Offaly and came through, it seems, without difficulty. That friendly featured mostly Tipperary players who didn’t see action against Clare and the talking point afterwards was the appalling state of Offaly hurling.
Elsewhere the Tipperary team looks predictable. Barry Hogan has taken over from Ken’s son between the sticks and on his form against Clare we won’t expect any change there this time.
There was some concern about the defence against Clare. Paudie can look uncomfortable if he’s drawn into the full back line but surely we have enough options there to avoid that happening. Ronan Maher is a hugely versatile player who can fill any defensive role; Brendan Maher too is adaptable.
It will be interesting to see the match-ups with the Limerick forwards. There’s a rumour at writing time of a possible injury concern with Gearoid Hegarty, which, if true, would be a major blow to Limerick. They certainly have a lot of firepower in that attack with the likes of Hegarty, Gillane, Lynch, Casey, Morrissey and company all having the potential to inflict heavy damage on a given day. Eternal vigilance will be needed on the Tipperary side.
Much has been made of the Limerick style of play but at a fundamental level it’s their physical competitiveness that I’d worry about much more than Paul Kinnerk’s tactics board. Matching their work rate is a first requirement before anything else can happen.
An essential aim for Tipperary will be to get the right supply lines flowing to our attack. If that can be achieved then we have the score power to win any match. Inevitably the middle third of the pitch will be a congestion zone in this game and a decent return there will be needed for anything else to happen.
One thing we won’t wish to see on Sunday is Tipperary puckouts dropping on the Limerick half back line. The Byrne/Hannon/Hayes axis is formidable and finding a way around that barrier will be crucial.
In all of this much depends on the on-field decision-making of the players themselves. You can have all the fancy tactics you like but in the hurly-burly of a hurling game everything can change in an instant and plans have to quickly adjust.
The one aspect Tipperary aren’t short on is experience so we trust the players to read situations and adapt accordingly.
I expect a huge effort from Tipperary on Sunday. Pride alone surely dictates that recent trends vis a vis our neighbours must be challenged.
Historically we’ve always found Limerick awkward but we still have a healthy lead in the head-to-head. The counties have met 72 times in championship, with Tipp leading on 36 wins against 26 for Limerick and 10 draws.
The Munster final record is much tighter. We’ve met in 16 finals, with Tipp leading nine-seven. Our last final win in Cork against Limerick was during Nicky English’s reign in 2001 and that, as I recall, was a tight and nervous outcome.
Defeat per se won’t be fatal to our season but the performance could be. We have a score or two to settle with modern day Limerick and this is the perfect opportunity to redress the balance.
Let’s go for it.
Elsewhere the long-running West Tipperary transfer saga has finally ended, with the five former Kickhams players now eligible to play with Cashel K.C. It brings the curtain down on what has been a messy and acrimonious episode that will, inevitably, cast a long shadow into the future.
The end game came last week when Kickhams decided against a return visit to the DRA after their appeal to Munster Council failed to win support. That Munster appeal was the fifth hearing of this case and it was surely time to close accounts and let everyone move on.
The fall-out will linger, of course. It came as a shock to some to discover that the so-called parish rule was deemed to be anything but a binding rule and one assumes now that the County Board will move to address that issue before the year is out.
For the parties involved it has been a bruising experience. These episodes are never pleasant and the longer they drag out the more entrenched positions become. The best hope is always at the early stages and when that window is missed, as it was here, then the chances of a resolution diminish rapidly.
For the Kickhams club this is the second major split in my lifetime and surely should lead to some internal soul searching in a bid to avoid a repeat in the future. They’ve lost a core of key players, which will inevitably have consequences.
For the players themselves their hurling careers have been seriously disrupted at a pivotal stage in their development and it remains to be seen if they can pick up the pieces and recover lost ground.
As for Cashel K.C. there are short-term gains but longer term may be more problematic.
For the broader GAA family there are issues as well following an episode like this. The association has successfully put in place a Disputes Resolution Authority, which usually acts as final adjudicator when all else has failed.
But how about a mediation forum of some sort that clubs could avail of to try and see off trouble, rather than allowing matters fester. I know an ad hoc committee tried, and very nearly succeeded, in resolving this dispute but a more formal set up surely ought to be available.
A vain hope, perhaps.
The sides clash at sun drenched Semple Stadium, Thurles this evening
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