In this week’s column, Martin Kiely is optimistic that the coming season can be a good one for the Limerick hurlers.
Expectation is a word that came up quite a lot over Christmas in relation to the year ahead for the Limerick senior hurlers.
It is of course very early days but down time provides opportunity for conversation. I was part of many discussions and the general view was that Limerick has the players to be serious contenders in the year ahead. The past year was very disappointing and most people felt the team did not deliver on their potential. There was something missing because they never really looked like they had the bite to win major games. Yes they beat Clare in the opening round but as things turned out Clare didn’t set the world alight with drive, focus and ambition either.
Limerick failed to build on the year previous and not making the quarter-finals was a big set-back. It’s then and only then that the real hurling begins. Losing to Dublin in Thurles was a hammer blow that left supporters with more questions than answers. Limerick get their hurling year underway next Sunday in Kilmallock when they play Kerry in the Munster league. This league is of little importance and it should be used to develop players and I expect it will. Limerick didn’t have many young players around the dressing room last year but that has changed now given that the U-21s won the All Ireland title.
How the Limerick management mould the young players into the system will be very important but one thing is for sure many of those young players would appear to have the necessary tools to survive at the highest level. They must be given their chance to shine. The Limerick County Board have made it pretty clear that they expect the management to get the team out of Division 1B of the National League.
The County Chairman Oliver Mann and others at the top table have let it be known that they want the team out of the lower division and back in Division 1. There is little doubt that the lack of playing in Division 1 has cost Limerick come the latter stages of the championship. Limerick had great chances over the past couple of years to win promotion but for some reason they failed to rise to the challenge and take the opportunity. Winning promotion is one thing but players will also have to be developed during the National League and that will provide challenges for the management.
The Munster League offers a chance to blood players but so does the National League. Limerick open their account in the league to Wexford and that game will be at the Gaelic Grounds. The final game will be against Clare and that game is fixed for Cusack Park. There is some talk Cusack Park might not be finished in time as its undergoing much needed upgrading.
Most teams are back in full swing for the past couple of months and many teams and managers have plenty reasons to hit the ground running in early 2016. I think the Munster championship is very open and I think the draw suits Limerick. There are questions marks over most teams but I feel Limerick are really well placed to win the Munster championship. History shows that when Limerick’s attitude is right they are very hard to beat. Limerick have lost most of their backroom team since last year but with changes made and the appointment of a new coach everyone will be hoping for long run in the championship.
It took a long time to find a coach. Many were tried but in the end it was Dinny Cahill’s name that came before the County Board meeting. It took a while to get someone to nominate him but in the end it went through.
It was not the sort of start he or the rest of his management team would have wanted but all is done and dusted now and we can only hope all goes well for him. Cahill is a great hurling man and he will add his passion for the game. From a coaching point of view he will match others in the field, he may not be as flamboyant as others but simplicity often gets most results and if the Limerick players buy into his approach then they might very well be rewarded.
The temperature was lifted in the Munster championship when Donal Og Cusack was announced as coach to the Clare senior team. This was a big move for Cusack and also for Davy Fitzgerald who was under pressure. It could work out to be the ideal partnership and from what I have seen and heard the Clare team are working very hard.
They had a session at 5.30am in LIT just a couple of days before Christmas and it was gruelling. Hard work and appetite go hand in hand in Clare and I hear that the players are very pleased with Cusack. The focus of more hurling sessions has gone down well with the players. The final league game between Limerick and Clare will be very close to championship pace if both teams remain unbeaten. Both management teams are under pressure to deliver and the outcome could have a big impact on the rest of the year.
Limerick have room for improvement both in defence and attack and places are up for grabs. David Breen has called time on his career and that came as a surprise. It won’t be easy to replace him. He had good ball winning skills particularly in the air. Players like Diarmaid Byrnes, Richie English, David Dempsey and Ronan Lynch will challenge for places and that is what is needed in the team. Winning teams now need 20 players challenging for places on match days and the quality of the subs so often decides the outcome of the games.
Ask any manager of recent winning All Ireland teams and they will tell you that it’s the small things that make the difference. What we have seen over the past two or three years are players and teams trying to make best use of the ball. It looks great when it works but when it falls down it makes for hard viewing.
Kilkenny have always trusted the men going out to deliver. They work on the principle of the man winning his own ball. That in reality is what makes them different. If a player is unable to win his own ball then he has little chance of making a difference to the outcome of a game.
When Limerick are going well they bring a carefree approach to the game. They have a go and this is what makes them hard to beat. I think a few Limerick players have what it takes to be outstanding players. Winning major titles requires a few special players to stand out, show the way, show leadership and I am confident others have the ability to follow.
Winning comes as a result of hard work and if this Limerick side knuckle down they are a match for any team. At the start of every season we all have hopes and expectations. Our senior hurlers are the flagship team and everyone wants them to lead the way. When they do well the entire county does well. They lift the atmosphere at club level and our young boys and girls have someone to look up to.
At the start of any year you will look for signs to see that the team are going in the right direction. Your eye will first address the physical state of the players. I find that the jaw bone gives a fair indication.
Willingness to work hard and a hunger to get on the ball can tell you a lot about a team. It’s about so many small things coming together to make the jigsaw fit complete and it’s our hope and expectation that Limerick have all the pieces in place for 2016.