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24 May 2022

Defiant display needed against Limerick to offer Tipperary hurling hope for the future

Tipp are rank outsiders taking on the All-Ireland champions

John McGrath

Tipperary hurler John McGrath underwent surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon on Wednesday. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The darling buds of May have scarcely appeared and already our hurling season is tethering on the brink of extinction. Tipperary head to the TUS Gaelic Grounds on Sunday, down and almost out after two defeats; Limerick will be expected to deliver the coup de grace.
Strange times indeed when Tipperary and Cork, the two traditional giants of the game in Munster, are now in a similar pickle. On present form Waterford will be expected to beat Cork, which could leave the final game between Tipp and Cork as the deadest of dead rubbers.
Well, actually in that scenario there might be something to play for because there is the potential for a relegation game. If Kerry win the Joe McDonagh Cup then they play off with the bottom team in the round robin group for the right to play next year’s McCarthy Cup. Talk about appalling vistas!
Championship always brings a few surprises and, I guess, Clare have been the unexpected package in Munster this year. Most championship previews had the Banner vying with Tipperary for bottom of the pile. Unfortunately, we’ve justified our role in that narrative but Clare have defied predictions with two wins from two games, setting them up nicely for a potential third place finish.
If present form carries through to the end, then the table could finish with Limerick, Waterford and Clare in that order and Cork and Tipp out in the cold.
Or will there be more twists and turns, such as a Tipp win on Sunday and Cork to then overturn Waterford? We can always dream, I suppose.
For Colm Bonnar it’s been a rough ride since he took over. Everyone knew in advance that there was going to be an element of transition but it’s been exacerbated by other factors such as injuries and voluntary withdrawals.
Paudie Maher’s injury was the worst blow of the lot. How we could have done with his leadership against Clare. Seamie Callanan’s injury was another blow, even if his role was limited to coming off the bench. Now John McGrath is also gone. The form of some of the other All-Ireland winners has dipped and the debutants are trying to find their feet at this level.
On top of all this the team is struggling with a new system of playing and, perhaps, being caught between two stools – whether to go long or short. When you’re failing with both approaches then there’s a collective meltdown, as we saw in the first half against Clare.
So, there is sympathy for Colm Bonnar because of the factors that are outside his control. However, that sympathy only extends so far. We still expect a team to be fit, focused and fired for the job and when that isn’t happening then public patience quickly runs out.
We go to Limerick this Sunday with expectations lower than they’ve been for many years. The bookies will offer odds of at least 6/1 on a Tipp victory, which means a Limerick defeat here would rate as a season sensation.
What do you do when your back is to the wall? You bring anger to your game and you fight for pride, if for nothing else. Kilkenny are arguably in a similar phase to Tipperary, trying to rebuild, but look at how they worked themselves to a standstill on Sunday. Cody’s fingerprints were all over a display that should have seen them well beaten but instead they were fighting to the end and only got caught by a controversial free.
I expect very little change on the Tipperary team from that which lost to Clare, simply because the options for change are so limited. John McGrath is out so perhaps Ger Browne’s fine form on being introduced the last day will see him start this time - unless there’s a view that his best contribution comes from off the bench. Otherwise, there’s little scope for change.
Limerick, of course, have ongoing injury problems but the defections don’t appear to upset their overall rhythm. Cian Lynch was the latest to join their casualty ward but others step in to fill the gap. There’s a robotic element to their game, where they just appear to power through the gears, irrespective of the opposition or what players they’re missing.
It’s a daunting challenge for Tipperary facing into the lion’s den on Sunday. If we’re anyway off the pace and less than gung-ho it could be a long seventy minutes of endurance. Limerick in recent years have had our measure anyway in key games so nobody will expect a change of fortune here.
The counties have met on 73 previous occasions with Tipperary winning 36, losing 27 and drawing 10. Limerick have won four of the last six meetings. Somehow, in the present circumstances, I suspect winning or losing is less important than the quality of a defiant display. We need a gutsy showing to offer some hope for the future.
Finally, it must rank as one of the strangest handshakes in the history of the game. Henry Shefflin’s Galway had just pipped Kilkenny in a thrilling, and controversial, Leinster championship tie at Salthill. The student had mastered the master in dramatic fashion.
What followed was bizarre. A glacial glare from Cody left viewers astonished. It was, at best, unbecoming. Cody’s record is undeniable but his demeanour here will have lost him many admirers. Shefflin was a winner on and off the field.

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