June 19th. Thurles. Munster SHC Semi-Final and a fifth consecutive season where Limerick and Tipperary have renewed local derby bragging rights. It was an opportunity for Limerick to produce a performance to avenge the mother of all comprehensive hammerings at the Gaelic Grounds at the same stage of the championship last season by Tipperary. Think again and TJ Ryan is pretty much a dead man walking. Why did Limerick lose so emphatically to a fourteen man Tipperary side? Hawkeye Sidekick tries to unravel the malaise.
Nicky Quaid had no chance for any of three opening salvos. His full back line were split wide open time after time in that opening period. It must have being a terrifying experience for the Effin clubman. Every time that Tipperary launched an attack in that opening period, they looked like scoring a goal. Quaid’s distribution though was extremely one dimensional and several puckouts were sent out to the sidelines giving Limerick’s forward line little quality ball to work from. As good as you can be after leaking three goals early.
Full Back Line Nightmares
The word ‘naive’ came to mind when I saw the initial team lineup. A very inexperienced full back line was announced and one may have suspected that it was TJ Ryan playing a couple of mind games. However, a full-back line consisting of Tom Condon and debutants Dan Morrisey and Richie English lined out to protect Nicky Quaid’s goal.
A massive ask for Ahane’s Dan Morrissey who was up against one of the leading marksmen in the country in Seamus Callanan and one hoped that Limerick would introduce a sweeper system to protect the rookie but it never materialized due to the decision to name Gavin O’Mahoney at half-back.
O’Mahoney’s decision to allow acres of space in front of the full back line in that first quarter was only going to end up in Tipperary scoring endless goals. Morrissey was left continually exposed by the likes of Callanan with his pace highlighted by the Drom Inch player’s goal where Morrissey was guilty of ball watching in the lead-up. Great offload by a rejuvenated Bonnar Maher.
The Ahane player settled into the game thereafter but with three goals already picked out of the net by Nicky Quaid, the damage was done. In this backdrop, Richie English attempted to stem the tide; tried his best but given the distribution and movement of the Tipperary inside forward line endured a torrid afternoon. The Doon player will be asked to assume full back duties after yesterday. His pace is undeniable; question mark on his physicality perhaps but that will come.
Tom Condon, as honest as they come again endured a torrid afternoon due to the issues in the full back position and the massive space afforded by Limerick half-back line to Tipperary’s full forward line. No lessons were learned in twelve months given how Tipperary forward line created space inside.
Half Back Line Balance
O’Mahoney was entrusted with implementing the sweeper system role and it failed miserably. Game management was non-existent at times and distribution to the forward line was sloppy; high hopeful ball in challenging weather conditions was never going to cut it.
The half-back line had little or no balance. Seamus Hickey at wing back albeit his statistics were good was caught several times in possession. The distinct lack of game time was detrimental in that opening period and his limited cameos in the NHL spoke volumes. The Setanta Sports pundit will not recall this game with any fond memories.
Diarmuid Byrnes was the only success story for Limerick in the back line; he was the only player who was willing to drive the team forward throughout and he has an extremely bright future in the game. His role may shift to half-back in the light of the performance produced yesterday albeit Ronan Lynch who was dropped for the contest may be another option to consider particularly in the sweeper system.
Let us quite frank; the Limerick midfield were routed from start to finish. Michael Breen’s runs from deep in the opening exchanges were never tracked by either Browne or Ryan and the Ballina native will rarely score two easy goals in his inter-county career. Browne was industrious but no distinct contribution to either back or forward line. James Ryan was also bereft in contributions; struggled to contain Breen and Brendan Maher sit back in the pocket and assisted his back line with the minimum of fuss. The midfield area to be fair has served Limerick well and was not the worse line on show but the alarm bells are ringing. Cian Lynch as a third man midfielder had minimal influence, ran with ball on several occasions but little was produced. The modern game is not suited to a player of the ability of Lynch who needs to adapt quickly to sweeper systems and the reduced time and space on the ball.
Abject Half-Forward Line
The half-forward line was the worse line for Limerick and that is saying something. The decision to play Gearoid Hegarty at number ten when cleaned by Waterford in the NHL semi-final five weeks prior was a head scratcher. The St. Patrick’s clubman is a natural wing back and the Limerick experiment of attempting to convert a quality half-back to the half-forward line (look at Ollie Moran’s Limerick career) looks quite shambolic. I felt incredibly sorry for Hegarty; his championship debut was one to forget. Dominated by Padraic and Brendan Maher, it was a chastening experience. Hegarty’s best days in a Limerick jersey are still to come and one hopes the player can bounce back from a tough championship debut.
Shane Dowling’s impact from play was minimal as Ronan Maher’s pace and game management mopped most of Limerick’s aimless attacking distribution. Dowling could not be faulted for his free taking and the Na Piarsaigh player is the key forward player for the county now.
Barry Nash, an incredible inside forward was asked to forage in the half-forward line. Worked tirelessly but his best work is at corner forward as seen in last season’s U21 campaign where Nash’s burst of pace with possession caught the eye. Seamus Kennedy was comfortable throughout and Nash’s substitution spoke more about Limerick’s lack of management on the sideline than anything else.
Full Forward Line
Now we get to the full forward line? Mulcahy, Hannan and Lynch who was a third man midfielder flat out never worked. Hannan at full-forward was starved of quality ball. His two point return came from scraps. Is Hannan’s influence more suited to the team at half-back where he plays for his club Adare? Mulcahy tried hard but there was nothing new from the Kilmallock player and Tipperary’s full back line coped well with the threat posed.
Several positional and player switches back fired horribly. There was an air of desperation about this team selection; no consistency in selection from the NHL. Richie McCarthy omission at full back was an enormous call; despite apparent poor challenge game cameos, the Blackrock player pedigree in championship is self-evident. The half-back line as mentioned lack pace and physicality in the aerial challenges. The sweeper system setup was all wrong. O’Mahoney when required to sit deep did not and vice versa. The distribution of the sweeper is now paramount and the hopeless ball hit was an indication of a lack of planning by management to the scenario as well as a distinct lack of movement by the Limerick outfield players. The half-forward line was an adulterated nightmare. No ball winner in the line and Tipperary despite playing with fourteen players dominated proceedings. The lack of substitutes to change the game also caught the eye; no confidence in the likes of Tom Morrisey, Ronan Lynch, Peter Casey was damning.
Hard to see how this management ticket can be retained.The distinct lack of fight and passion from the Limerick team was a throwback to the 2002 season when Dave Keane was ridiculed from pillar to post. Limerick hurling is in for another winter of discontent; a trip to Mullingar in the qualifiers has banana skin written all over it. Limerick’s lethargic approach to this stage of the qualifiers would suggest that Westmeath will relish the challenge. TJ Ryan, a great Limerick hurling servant as player and manager but the players look like they have had their full of the Garryspillane native; dressing room and lost comes to mind. The responsibility of this debacle is a collective but a new direction in management with proven All Ireland success is required. Limerick’s U21 success last seasons looks like a real distant memory.
Limerick Team (Hawkeye Sidekick)
Quaid, Condon, English, Hickey, Hegarty, Byrnes, Ronan Lynch, O’Mahoney, Cian Lynch, Fitzgibbon, Ryan, Tom Morrissey, Dowling, Hannan, Nash.