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. When quizzed about it, I gave the well-worn response “Championship coming up.”
Normally that is enough to have my card marked for the sitting. But on this occasion, one guest dug a little deeper. And in turn caused me to think a little more on it than I had previously. The first question was the usual.
“Who do you play for?”
This normally leads to well-meaning comments about being unlucky not to have won a Munster title previously etc. And this time was no different. What was a change from the norm was the next line of questioning, which may have been brought on by some liquid lubrication.
“Can I ask why do you do it? You’re probably not going to win a Munster now and are never going to win an All-Ireland. What’s the point?”
To be honest I wasn’t annoyed by the question. In truth, it was something I had asked myself plenty of times. But now it needed an answer.
“I want to test myself against the best. And see what level I can get to.”
“Fair enough. But going in against a Kerry or a Tyrone. You’re not going to beat them. It must be tough to know that before you even get going?”
I took a bit of time to digest that. A part of me didn’t want to admit that there was some truth in it. But a bigger, more defiant 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 back myself to beat the man who I’m marking. And trusting those around me to do the same. Preparing well gives me that confidence. That’s all I can control and that’s my challenge every game.”
There were enough days when that didn’t happen. The likes of Stephen Bray and Declan O’Sullivan come to mind. But that was my mindset going into every game. And when I thought about the character and ability of those men around me, player versus player, it gave great confidence.
Mention of challenges, the task ahead of Billy Lee and Limerick couldn’t be a bigger one. Kerry are the best team in the country at the moment. And having to travel to Killarney to take them on (the fifth time in the last six Limerick/Kerry Munster Football finals) only makes it harder.
The return of Jack O’Connor to the hottest of hotseats and the addition of Paddy Tally to the coaching ticket has brought a doggedness and edge to their tackling and defensive structure, something they were probably missing in previous campaigns.
Their options in the forwards are striking and plentiful as always. Outside of the games biggest name David Clifford, and the deadly Sean O’Shea, Limerick must try and deal with the pace of Stephen O’Brien and the sniping of Paul Geaney, who only came off the bench the last day.
Perhaps the most influential player for Kerry though is their version of Kevin De Bruyne i.e. Paudie Clifford. So much of what they do goes through him, and he will need to be given special attention.
The Limerick match ups will need to be spot on, which Billy and his selectors will have given plenty thought on since the semi-final win. And they may take something from the Cork performance in that respect. But will also realise that Cork never really gave Kerry a bloody nose.
They will need to take a few swings, in a football sense. Possession in Gaelic Football is nine tenths of the law, and too often Cork coughed the ball up.
Kickouts will be huge in this regard, and you would have to expect Kerry to push extra bodies into the Limerick half when Donal O’Sullivan is putting the ball down. I am sure Limerick have addressed this in training, and how they deal with this press will have a huge bearing on the game.
This Limerick team have been so impressive in possession for the majority of 2022. They all look comfortable on the ball and scores are coming from all over the pitch. Goals as always would be huge.
Kerry have only conceded two in total in their league and championship games to date and have a +11 in the goal difference column. But Limerick have an equally impressive goal difference of +8.
Their defence has had a solid look throughout the 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 summer’s day. Marching behind the band. So many things will be running through players heads on that walk. Excitement. Nervous energy. Doubt. It’s so easy say “play the game and not the occasion.”
If only it were that easy. But that is what the players will have to be thinking during that stroll around Fitzgerald Stadium.
Block out the players in the green and yellow jerseys that are in the line close by. Trust that the players in your line will deliver. But above all have confidence in your own preparation and performance, which has brought you to this point. Get hands on the ball early. Stay in the fight. And don’t let the day pass you by.
Whatever happens after that happens.
These are the days of your sporting lives.
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