“It doesn’t matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove.” Tom Cruise (A Few Good Men)
Limerick welcome Cork to the LIT Gaelic Grounds this coming Saturday for a Munster Senior Football Championship Semi Final. As it stands, the capacity of those attending the Ennis Road venue is to be capped at 3,500.
Whatever the capacity, those who are travelling to support the men in green and white will do so with great optimism.
I’m sure they are having the same conversations with people that I have had this last week. It goes something like this.
Person: “Are the footballers playing at the weekend?”
Me: “Ya. At three in the Gaelic Grounds”
Person: “They’re going well. Must have a right chance against Cork. Sure they have gone way back.”
Me: “Ya they definitely have a chance alright. Cork aren’t the force they once were, and Limerick have shown good form recently.”
Person: “Limerick could have won a Munster title last year if they had held on against Tipp. Cork were there for the taking.”
Me: “Well maybe but it doesn’t always follow on like that. It was a different Tipp team that Cork faced. It’s all on the day really. And the year previous year Cork gave Limerick an awful beating below there. So it’s a big gap to bridge. I hope they show up on Saturday anyway and see where that takes them.”
There is a perception out there that this Cork team are “there for the taking”. And I must admit that I fell into that lazy analysis too. It is easy to. They were one league loss away from dropping to Division Three. And were beaten by Tipperary in their last Championship outing, a team who Limerick beat recently.
Another way to look at it though would be that Cork won three of their four games in Division Two of the league this year. And they beat Kerry in a winner-take-all Championship game prior to that loss against Tipperary.
Appearances can be deceiving.
Take 2019 for example. The year that I think sparked the revival of this Limerick group. At the end of that season Limerick could look back with some pride on having delivered a big Championship win in Thurles against a hotly fancied Tipp side, and a decent showing against Westmeath in the Qualifiers.
Sandwiched in between however was a harrowing evening in Páirc Ui Rinn where a Ruairi Deane and Brian Hurley inspired Cork delivered a twenty-one point beating to a Limerick team who had travelled with some degree of expectation.
A “disappointing” year for Cork ended with an appearance in the Super 8s. Oh and their minor and under 20 teams won All-Irelands. Not too shabby.
All that being said, this Limerick panel are in a great place to attempt to cause what would be a big upset. They have shown a consistency of performance that has not been seen from a Limerick Football team for quite a while.
Their scoring rate has greatly improved, as has the variety of contributors. And there has been a stinginess to the defence when it comes to the concession of goals, something that will be crucial on Saturday.
In their last Championship meeting, Cork had three goals scored inside fourteen minutes! I have no doubt that has been addressed by Billy Lee in preparation for this game. It won’t be won in the opening minutes, but it can be lost.
The McGrath Cup win over the Leesider’s last year should also give the lads confidence. That evening in the Gaelic Grounds saw a Limerick team who just attacked Cork from the get-go, registering a hugely impressive twenty scores. And as lethal as Cork teams have shown themselves to be in possession, I do think this Limerick team can hurt them if they get hands on enough ball.
So the kickout battle will be crucial. It’s an area Cork have put a lot of effort into this year, so Limerick will need to be tuned in to every single restart. An almost uncontrollable desire to win that ball when it’s up for grabs, but also being calm and collected when that possession is gained.
There is a maturity in the group now. They have seen what true commitment to something worthwhile can achieve. Competing in a higher division has hopefully opened their eyes to where the bar is at. The Derry game in particular showed that they can live with a top team.
But to beat those teams, you need to be hitting all your Key Performance Indicators. Belief is one thing. Proving it another. If Limerick are in touching distance by half time, that Clare End dressing-room will be buzzing. Players emptying the tank in that “Championship” third quarter and getting a real kick off those players coming on will be needed.
No reason why this group can’t bring a huge performance on Saturday. The rest will look after itself.