Familiar Opponents, Expectancy and Goals | Taking Points as Limerick prepare for Tailteann Cup kick off

The Shannonsiders host Longford in their first game this Saturday with ties against Wicklow and Longford to come thereafter.

The 2023 Tailteann Cup kicks off this weekend with 17 teams in the running for the championship title in its second year. Limerick will be one of those after missing out on the maiden edition after reaching the Munster final outright.

Mark Fitzgerald’s side are one of the four top seeds and will be looking to replicate the performance of their Munster semi-final with Clare as they pushed the Banner all the way in a far cry from their league form.

The Shannonsiders host Longford in their first game this Saturday with ties against Wicklow and Longford to come thereafter.

With the opening round games around the corner, below are some of the talking points ahead of the 2023 Tailteann Cup.

Familiar Faces Await

The immediate positive to come from the Tailteann Cup draw is that Limerick are paired with three teams they have all beaten in their most recent encounters. For victories over Longford and Wicklow, you only need to go back to last year’s league while the Shannonsiders made it three successive wins to start the 2020 league against Carlow. The make up of all those teams will have altered since those recent meetings but it should give Limerick confidence in a campaign that will hopefully go all the way to Croke Park.

Longford up first is a repeat of their opening contest in the 2022 National League as the Shannonsiders marked the start of an incredible promotion campaign. After the disrupted league campaign of 2021 that saw the league split into “North” and “South”, the clash with the Leinster outfit last year was to be the first of seven with Limerick one of the favourites for the drop. But a blistering start in the TUS Gaelic Grounds helped Limerick to a 4-9 to 1-11 victory with each of the goalscorer, Brian Donovan (2), Cillian Fahy and James Naughton all starting last month’s Munster semi-final.

14 May 2022; Brian Donovan of Limerick celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the Munster GAA Senior Football Championship Semi-Final match between Tipperary and Limerick at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Mark Sheahan /Sportsfile

Wicklow have proved a fruitful opposition for Limerick in recent times with three wins in as many seasons against the Leinster side. Under Billy Lee, they made it four wins on the trot to start the 2020 NFL with a 5-10 to 1-14 win in Rathkeale. The following season in the final round of Division 3, they travelled to Aughrim and claimed an impressive 10 point win to not only stave of a relegation play off but secure a league semi-final berth. Last year, they were victorious in the same venue, winning by four points to reignite their promotion push.

They haven’t met Sligo since the final round of the 2020 league when they secured promotion with a 1-16 to 1-14 victory away to the Yeats county. After falling to Wexford in Mick Neville Park on the resumption of the league following the Covid enforced break, Limerick sealed promotion in style with an impressive victory in Markievicz Park.

Limerick’s recent dominance over their group three opponents will county for little but it will provide some confidence for Mark Fitz and co as the favourites to reach the quarter-finals.

Lengthy Run Needed

Limerick were a kick of the ball away from forcing extra-time against Clare in the Munster semi-final last month and will rue missed opportunities in their bid to get back to the provincial final. Big chances went abegging down the stretch as the Treaty allowed Clare back into the game after finding the lead in the third quarter of the contest. The Banner kicked on condemning Limerick to the Tailteann Cup.

It won’t have been the first choice option but Limerick are now in a position where they will be facing teams in the same division as them or the division below. In Munster, Tipperary and Waterford were the only teams they met in the championship in the division below them since the defeat to Wexford in 2017. Now they are paired with sides solely in the bottom two divisions safe from the All-Ireland contenders in Kerry who showed the gulf in class in last year’s Munster final.

But the chance at winning championship games, albeit in the second tier isn’t one that Limerick will take lightly as they prepare for what will potentially be a lengthy run into the summer. The Treaty are the number one seed in their group and will keen to live up to that with first place getting a bye into the quarter-finals. Limerick haven’t been in the last eight of an All-Ireland championship since 2011, when they suffered a heavy defeat to Kerry in Croke Park.

GAA Football All Ireland Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final 31/7/2011 Kerry vs Limerick Kerry’s Killian Young and Seamus O’Carroll of Limerick Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

That was also their last championship game in GAA HQ, the prize on offer for the four semi-finalists. Against Clare, they showed that they are closer to the top tier than the bottom but reaching the last eight will be the minimum requirement if they are to get their progress back on track following the set back that was the league.

How Will Limerick Handle The Pressure?

Similarly, Limerick will be in new territory as one of the teams to beat in the Tailteann Cup. They will be one of only two counties (alongside Meath) to play in the second tier of the League and as mentioned, they are one of the top seeds beside the Royal County, Cavan and Fermanagh. That makes Limerick as favourites to not only finish the top of their group but as one of the front runners to reach the decider.

Following a remarkable run from bottom division of the league to the second in the space of three years under Lee, Limerick will be in alien territory as favourites for a run of championship games. Despite reaching the Munster final last summer, Clare, as a seasoned Division two team, would have been favoured for their quarter-final meeting. They held the favourites mantle in the win over Tipperary last summer but outside of those meetings with the Premier and Waterford in recent years, not much would have been expected of the Treaty.

Now that they will enter these group games as favourites to take the W, how they cope with that expectancy will be interesting. This crop of players have shown an ability to adapt to their surroundings in the Spring but how they fare in the summer is a new challenge.

Cavan The Favourites

As one of the top seeds, Limerick are rightly favoured to go deep into the competition that Westmeath were victorious in last summer. However, there is one team that feel aggrieved to not be dining at the top table this summer after featuring in the Tailteann Cup in 2022 and that is Cavan. Last year’s runners up were also favoured to claim the inaugural title but were pipped by Westmeath in an exciting decider. The Ulster outfit did gain a second successive promotion earlier this year but a loss to Armagh in the Ulster quarters ensured another year in the Tailteann.

They are top of the pile in terms of the odds, priced at 2/1 ahead of Down and Meath who can both be got at 11/2. Limerick (9/1) are sixth in the pecking order with Offaly and Fermanagh both at 7/1

Each of those will have genuine ambitions of going all the way and there will be 24 games alone to eliminate just four teams. There will be four more preliminary quarter-finals before the final eight is determined. Plenty can happen in that time but before a ball is thrown in, Cavan do look the best placed to go one better than 2022.

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