If Tipperary had boarded an ark, we would have remained impassive.
What could come as a surprise on an overwhelming Sunday evening in Páirc Uí Chaoimh? There was a literal and metaphorical deluge, as Limerick swept away a 10 point deficit at halftime with a power throw from the Biblical cast close. They missed the eventual winners by a margin of five. Tipperary was not so much defeated as broken.
At halftime, Liam Sheedy clapped like a convincing preacher. Tipperary’s manager would end up with an undertaker, burying the hopes of the day.
Sheedy has always been jiggy with confidence, but the roots of Sunday’s fervor were obvious. Limerick, destroyed during stretching, lost 10 points. The script was scribbled in tipp italics.
What changed? The astonishing third quarter reversal, Tipperary dominated by 1-10 to 0-1, fostered side reflections on 21st century hurling. What were the main lessons?
Most hurling teams now operate with a false 11, a center forward that drifts on clear clearances. Main idea? Make a center of retainer redundant while the false 11 lunges and assists.
Declan Hannon is the quintessential center-back as a quarterback, a playmaker for whom scoring is the least of his duties. During Sunday’s first half, Jason Forde took on the role of the False 11 with aplomb, moving for fun. Michael Breen and Noel McGrath were false attackers, steadily declining.
Liam Sheedy and his colleagues have made a double bet. First, making Hanno redundant would dull Limerick’s options. Second, a possible rejig would strengthen Tipperary’s hand in general terms. If Limerick sent midfielder Darragh O’Donovan, for example, to follow Forde’s wanderings, moving Cian Lynch from center-forward to midfield, Tipperary would acquire a spare man at the back, six defenders on. five forwards. This change would free Pádraic Maher for a role in which he generally excels.
John Kiely and his colleagues avoided this trap. Limerick’s top six increased the pressure on Tipperary’s clearances after the break. The squeeze worked, in that the bogus forwards got stuck in no man’s land, when deliveries could no longer be located. Kiely’s preference for pace of work in attack over a spare man behind was approved. This result has long-term resonance.
Quite doubtful. From July 2021, the prospect of a fairly honorable quarter-final loss to Cork or Galway or Waterford might appeal. Beating Kilkenny in the semifinals would likely simply mean another encounter with Limerick.
What does not please. Simply put, Limerick is improving and Tipperary is not improving.
Larger truths about this Premier group have loomed large. The current panel still depends on personalities who appeared in the late 2000s and early 2010s, men such as Séamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, Brendan Maher and Pádraic Maher. This generation has suffered many close defeats but still notched three All-Irelands (2010, 2016, 2019). In their riding, people like to plead their misfortune by not winning four or five senior titles.
I wonder about this feeling. Three senior titles seem quite appropriate and not at all parsimonious.
Tipperary from the 2010s, filled with sleek pitchers and good stickmen, could throw himself off brilliantly at times. But they were still vulnerable to being overworked and overwhelmed. The fact that these three senior finals were all won against Kilkenny suggests a lack of focus in other contexts. Real great teams never lack focus, regardless of the opposition.
There is also the tale of 2019. On his way to winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup, Tipperary was knocked out by Limerick in the Munster final, beat a 14-man Laois, beat a Wexford team that blew up in stupidity and beat a 14-man Kilkenny. This route represents one of the less interesting achievements of hurling.
If Tipperary is truly a great team, they will bounce back and win a 29th senior title in 2021.
Limerick certainly seems like that kind of team waiting. Last Sunday they stared at the cannon of a howitzer. They didn’t blink. The county is now 140 minutes away from the kind of glory only truly special teams can grab.
Self-confidence in their locker room must be out of the ordinary. Cian Lynch is a miracle caster. But Limerick must avoid red cards. Constant discipline remains a constant problem.
As has been well pointed out, Aaron Gillane deserved a red card for his 38th-minute pull against Cathal Barrett. A head-up tackle by Séamus Flanagan on Pádraic Maher later was not such a clear cut but largely culpable decision. John Kiely will need words in some ears.
Less reported were the implications of Barrett’s fault. Gillane arguably had a better scoring position, if it wasn’t fouled, than it did with Jake Morris against Clare in that recent Munster semi-final. While Aidan McCarthy has been sentenced to sin in a widely criticized decision, Paud O’Dwyer has shown no intention of rejecting sin at Barrett. This new rule wants to be fixed. The insertion of “probable goal opportunity” for “goal opportunity” is absolutely necessary, as well as the end of the requirement that the fouled player be brought to the ground.
Meanwhile, Clare got Cork and Galway got Waterford. It is difficult to choose the winners, the four counties producing such glitchy performances. Clare may be building momentum, and Galway will have a better chance if he chooses a fast and energetic midfielder.
The heat is on, in the immortal words of Glenn Frey, with no arches allowed.