Game pass

Don’t let the game get away from you

Pa Ranahan moves in to face Cork’s Paul Kerrigan in the 2009 Munster final.

I was at a wedding once where I was drinking a pint of MiWadi during the meal. The exception to the rule of the day. Asked about it, I gave the well-worn answer “Championship to come”.

Normally, this is enough to have my card marked for the session. But on this occasion, a guest dug a little deeper. And in turn made me think a little more than I had done before. The first question was the usual one.

“Who are you playing for?”

“Limerick Footballers.”

This normally leads to well-meaning comments about the bad luck of not having won a title at Munster before, etc. And this time it was no different. What has been a change from the norm was the next line of questioning, which may have been caused by liquid lubrication.

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“May I ask you why you do it? You’re probably not going to win a Munster now and you’ll never win an All-Ireland. What’s the point?”

To be honest, I wasn’t bothered by the question. In truth, it was something I had wondered about many times. But now he needed an answer.

“I want to compete with the best. And see how high I can get.

“Fair enough. But going up against a Kerry or a Tyrone. You’re not going to beat them. Must be hard to know that before you even go for it?

It took me a while to digest that. Part of me didn’t want to admit there was any truth to that. But a bigger, more challenging part of me took a different angle.

“You know, I don’t think too much about beating the team in front of us. I just fought to beat the man I’m marking. And trust those around me to do the same. Good preparation gives me that confidence. That’s all I can control and that’s my challenge every game.

There have been enough days that this has not happened. The likes of Stephen Bray and Declan O’Sullivan come to mind. But that was my mindset every game. And when I thought about the character and the abilities of these men around me, player against player, it gave me a lot of confidence.

Mention of challenges, the task ahead of Billy Lee and Limerick couldn’t be greater. Kerry is the best team in the country right now. And having to travel to Killarney to face them (the fifth time in the last six Limerick/Kerry Munster football finals) only complicates matters.

The return of Jack O’Connor to the hottest seats and the addition of Paddy Tally to the coaching ticket brought a stubbornness and edge to their tackling and defending structure that they likely lacked in previous campaigns .

Their options in forwards are striking and plentiful, as always. Apart from the games’ biggest name David Clifford and bruiser Sean O’Shea, Limerick must try to manage the pace of Stephen O’Brien and the sniping of Paul Geaney, who only came off the bench on the final day .

Perhaps the most influential player for Kerry is their version of Kevin De Bruyne, i.e. Paudie Clifford. Much of what they do goes through him, and he will need special attention.

Paudie Clifford is expected to play a major role in Munster’s football final.

Limerick’s clashes will have to be perfect, something Billy and his coaches will have thought a lot about since the semi-final victory. And they can take something away from Cork’s performance in that regard. But will also realize that Cork never really bled Kerry’s nose.

They will have to make some swings, in the footballing sense. Possession in Gaelic football is nine-tenths of the law, and too often Cork has spat the ball out.

The kicks will be huge in that regard, and you should expect Kerry to push extra bodies into the Limerick half when Donal O’Sullivan lays the ball down. I’m sure Limerick addressed this issue in training, and how they deal with this press will have a huge bearing on the game.

This Limerick side have been so impressive in possession for the majority of 2022. They all look comfortable on the ball and the scores are coming from all over the pitch. The goals, as always, would be huge.

Kerry has conceded just two in total in his league and league games so far and has a +11 in the goal difference column. But Limerick have an equally impressive goal difference of +8.

Their defense has looked solid all year so far but will face its toughest test on Saturday. But these are the tests you want. And the days you welcome.

A Munster football final in Killarney on a summers day. Walking behind the group. So many things will go through players’ heads on this walk. Excitement. Nervous energy. Doubt. It’s so easy to say “play the game not the occasion”.

If only it were that simple. But that’s what the players will have to think about during this trip to Fitzgerald Stadium.

Block players wearing the green and yellow jerseys who are in the nearby line. Trust that the players in your line will deliver. But above all have faith in your own preparation and performance, which has brought you to this point. Get your hands on the ball early. Stay in the fight. And don’t miss the day.

Whatever happens after that happens.

These are the days of your sports life.

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