In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks forward to the hurling season with renewed optimism.
Limerick hurling can look forward to the New Year with more than hope and confidence, a year that we all hope will end the All Ireland famine at senior level. Limerick has closed the gap between the major teams and I feel they are now ready to take the final steps towards winning the Liam McCarthy Cup.
What we saw last year against Kilkenny has provided hope for so many in Limerick hurling and I expect the team to benefit greatly from that experience. The management will also have learned lessons from that cracking game and they too will be much wiser for future contests. Many of the Limerick players have developed over the past couple of years and while many of them have done well I feel we have yet to see the best from some of them.
The bar to success has over recent years been raised to a new level by the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary and all involved in Limerick will be very aware of that. Finding ways of getting the best from players is the responsibility of the management and coaching staff and this has become far more intense in a bid to find the inches needed to cross the winning line.
I have said in recent weeks that this is the best bunch of players Limerick have assembled for nearly twenty years and the current team will be very aware that so many great players before them left the stage empty handed when it came to All Ireland senior success. Many of the current team have tasted success at various levels and they have lost the fear of success. They expect to win and it’s never too early to do that. Just look at Clare two years ago. Limerick has a lot of talent coming through and that’s important because the team needs to be improved both in defence and attack. The team is more settled now but to win next September Limerick will need to add just a few players on the field and also on the bench.
One player can make a huge difference and in that regard I expect Cian Lynch to have a major impact in 2015, yes he is just out of minor grade but the Patrickswell man is well primed to hold his own at this level. Lynch has good hands and exceptional feet and come next summer he could have a telling role to play in the Limerick forward line.
He is the best young hurler to come on the scene in Limerick for many years. He is a level-headed chap that will in no way be affected by the transition from minor to senior level. Limerick are back in training and I am hearing that Aaron Murphy could also be in line for promotion this year. Murphy is a very good goalkeeper and his puck outs are just one of the reasons that could see him take up the number one jersey which in turn could see Nicky Quaid move to a place out field.
Going the back door route provides a second chance for teams and some teams have done well as a result but facts show that most All Irelands are won by teams that come out of their Province as title holders. Limerick play Clare in the opening round of the Munster championship and the winners face Tipperary in the semi final.
That game against Clare will be a massive contest and both counties will be very aware of its significance. Limerick will once again play in Division 1B of the National League this year and I expect them to finally take flight from this division.
Waterford and Wexford are the teams that will provide the biggest opposition but Limerick I feel are a few steps ahead of them now. The fact that Kilmallock are chasing a club title will provide opportunities for a few players to shine and I am sure the management will see this as a way to strengthen the team.
Hard work by the players and astute management and coaching are key elements to success and if anyone of these is lacking then entry to the winner’s enclosure is always difficult. Five players were let go last weekend after a challenge game against Cork and two were added to the panel.
It could be that Limerick might secure the edge from a higher power, over Christmas I climbed Croagh Patrick and a card held down by a stone on St Patricks grave had the following words, “Limerick All Ireland senior hurling champions 2015.” It was finished with the words “Up the Bouncers”. It’s the hope of all in Limerick G.A.A that those words will be loud and clear next September.
Of course Limerick will have other teams chasing honours, over the past couple of years the county has won back to back minor titles for the first time ever and with fourteen of last year’s panel its felt Limerick are strong favourites to win three in a row in Munster. Leo O’Connor is now Manager and has been joined by Anthony Daly as Coach.
This is a very good minor team and the previous manager and management has left a very solid foundation for this new management to work from. Such is the talent in the minor team I feel they will be back in Croke Park for a third year in a row. Anthony Daly is one of the most experienced Managers at senior level in the country and the fact that he has decided to join Limerick at minor level just shows the ambition of this current Limerick minor team.
John Kiely is the new manager at U-21 and he will bring a lot of experience to the table and I expect them to do very well. The player base at this level is very good with two winning minor teams to pick from over the last couple of years combined with others you get the sense that it will take a very good team to beat them.
Clare have led the way at this grade for a few years now but Limerick would look like holding some very key cards come championship time.
All things considered 2015 looks like a year of great hope for Limerick hurling and I want to wish players and management the very best of luck in the season ahead.