Nicky English: Form of key players a big concern but Limerick can grind it out

Although still misfiring last week there was a lot to admire in the champions’ stubborn refusal to let go

It’s hardly a last-day revelation but anything is possible in the Munster championship this year once you leave Waterford out of it. Coming into it in April the view was the same as the last few years — that Limerick had six points in hand over any of the other teams in Munster or Leinster.

As it has played out, there’s nothing between the teams and that’s the situation going into this weekend’s crucial Limerick-Cork match. On form lines, they both drew with Tipperary and both lost to Clare by a point. Everyone thinks it’s a cop-out to predict draws but that’s the value bet on Sunday.

They’re well-matched but play slightly differently. Cork have also shown a bit of resilience. They looked at various stages of the Tipp and Clare matches as if the result was heading out the gate. In recent years that was usually a sign that they would lose but there’s more resistance in them so far this season.

Regardless of how things have been going, they have managed to stage a recovery. Ciarán Joyce has been very good in defence and they have been able to move it up front; Shane Kingston has been very good off the bench and is rewarded by being named to start this weekend.


Clare at times looked like they’d a number on them but the fact that they didn’t is a good indicator for Cork. They’re still playing flamboyantly and have shown the potential for goals. They needed them against Tipperary and Clare but importantly they got them.

I give Limerick a lot of credit for the fightback last weekend but some of their marquee forwards are simply out of form. The result as I’ve been pointing out in recent weeks is that the scoring rate has dropped. They didn’t look like getting a goal against Tipperary and if Cork score goals, their scoring rate is going to have to go up.

Cian Lynch and Gearóid Hegarty and to an extent Peter Casey are the primary examples of this shortfall. Hegarty is a player who can get 1-3, 1-4 in a match and Lynch at his best has scored 0-4 and 0-5 whereas Casey had five from play before half-time in the 2021 All-Ireland but got injured.

That’s a lot of scoring power. Last week we saw Cian Lynch wide with a snapshot at the start of the second half — superb skill to get it off but he didn’t manage the score he needed to get him going.

In fairness to him and Hegarty, they really went for it in the second half but the latter went for a goal when he should maybe have tapped over a point. It was emblematic of his game at present and he was taken off shortly afterwards.

I know from experience in 1991 that form can be elusive and injury influences form for fear of recurrence. My confidence probably never fully recovered although I was nearer the end of my career. It’s hard to flick a switch.

Given that Cathal O’Neill shot 0-5 from play and is now one of their scorers-in-chief, it’s a bit of a surprise that he is listed as having been dropped but that’s if you take the announced team at face value.

It’s not just their key attackers. There is no doubt that their touch is off a fraction. The defence was a little off as well even if Tipp never threatened a goal. Declan Hannon and Diarmaid Byrnes both fumbled ball. Nickie Quaid fumbled ball! Mike Casey was caught in possession. Where’s that coming from — an anxiety to get the ship moving again and get out of Munster? Having lost a match their back is against the wall.

I’m sure there’s a hope that if they can get out of the province, they may be able to reset if they can get to Croke Park. Cork though look to have a greater goal-scoring capacity — seven over three matches as opposed to three in three.

You’re talking about Hurlers of the Year and their expectations of themselves — forget other peoples’ expectations — are not to be sitting in the stands in the middle of the second half when the battle is raging. Starting matches, knowing you’ve something to fix is not ideal.

I was impressed with Limerick in one sense last week. They ground it out. This weekend is likely to be another grind but they didn’t shirk it and won’t now.

There’s not much to say about the other Munster match. Waterford started with a spark but have thrown in the towel since. Tipperary have about 20 players fighting to get picked and will have a crowd backing them. I expect them to progress to the Munster final.

Westmeath’s big win over Wexford makes Leinster about as exciting as it’s been all year. Given that Kilkenny are already in the final, it gives Wexford a shot at getting something out of the match and although I feel Kilkenny have just been better, you can never rule out Wexford if a big crowd gets behind them.

It’s the same with the match in Croke Park. Dublin have a good record in the fixture but realistically Galway have been playing at a higher level so far.