Jerome O’Connell casts his eye over the Limerick hurlers after two rounds of games in the league
TWO games into the 2012 Allianz Hurling League and we really have learned very little about the Limerick hurlers.
About the only thing that has been learned is that Limerick still have much work to done.
I don’t think there was any doubt that the opening year of John Allen’s two-year term was going to be about building a solid foundation on top of the base layer laid by Donal O’Grady last season.
It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Limerick could match any side on any given day but a consistent level on par of the Kilkennys and Tipperarys always looked beyond the fledging SIDE.
For most the initial target was to right the wrongs of last season and get Limerick back among the elite of the Allianz League.
But the opening day 14-point collapse at the hands of Clare left Limerick with an uphill challenge.
What do Limerick have to do to stay in contention?
The win in Portlaoise kick-started Limerick’s promotion aspirations from Division 1B but really it was results elsewhere that were kind to Limerick.
From a Limerick point of view it’s probably best if Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare were now to journey towards the April 8 Division 1B final on an unbeaten run.
It’s worth remembering that it is the winner of the Division 1B final that will be promoted and not the side that finishes top of the table. Therefore Limerick can afford to stumble into that final and hopefully reserve their best for another reunion with The Banner and one would presume that if the Shannonsiders were to meet in the decider that the Gaelic Grounds would be the venue, given that Limerick travelled to Ennis’ Cusack Park last April.
But before all that, John Allen’s side have much work to do as Limerick, Wexford, Offaly and Antrim battle to remain on the heels of Clare.
This Sunday, Limerick travel to Wexford, while Offaly host Antrim and by the end of the Bank Holiday weekend all should be a little clearer.
But there is no doubting that Limerick must win in Wexford Park on Sunday.
Offaly will then visit the Gaelic Grounds on March 24 and the league ends on April 1 when Limerick will have to make the trip north to Belfast’s Casement Park.
And, somewhat unlucky for Limerick, is the fact that Antrim are likely to have their Loughgiel Shamrocks contingent back in harness after the All-Ireland club exploits.
What questions have been answered in the games to date?
John Allen was honest enough to say that the win over Laois didn’t solve very much.
That was because the opposition was certainly not up to the level of Clare in round one.
This Sunday will be a better guideline.
There needs to be some signs that Limerick are getting fitter and sharper.
Clare are probably fitter than most teams at this time of the year but the gap should not be that great.
In both league games Limerick have started well - leading 1-6 to 0-4 after 20 minutes against Clare and leading 1-8 to 0-2 after 15 minutes against Laois.
After that Limerick’s intensity has noticeably dropped.
Certainly there is plenty work to be done on the training field to maintain the necessary intensity for 70-minutes. And, on top of that some of Limerick’s striking to-date has been very poor. Numerous times players have mishit shots when under no pressure.
Hand-passing is certainly not as dominant as last season and the return to the direct ball is welcome.
But what is noticeable is that even the hand-passes that do exist as too laboured.
Are Limerick any closer to
confirming the spine of team?
Unfortunately, due to the reduced number of league games this season the chances are running out to try different options in competitive fare.
Limerick went through 2011 without cementing two key problems in the heart of the defence and Clare certainly reminded all of the importance of these roles.
Stephen Lucey and Brian Geary filled the roles in the recent past and while both had their detractors, they were natural leaders in key positions and offered the necessary physicality and experience.
Richie McCarthy is in possession of the number three shirt but so far has failed to dominate in the role but does merit another chance on Sunday. Tom Condon or perhaps Brian Geary are the only other possibilities for me, although some might suggest David Breen, who played there under Justin McCarthy in 2010.
Management sprung somewhat of a surprise last week with Donal O’Grady at centre back. There were glimpses against Laois that he could solve this problem area with two great fetches from puckouts and as always his deliveries into attack were excellent.
It’s unfortunate that Seamus Hickey is abroad as this rules out another experiment, while Brian Geary is really in a race against time to be fully fit for the championship due to his on-going groin injury.
Other options like Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’Mahony appear better suited to roles on the wing.
Switching Declan Hannon to number six would surely be counter-productive.
The biggest positive of 2012 to-date is that instant impression of some of the younger players.
Shane Dowling looks instantly at home in the senior ranks, while Declan Hannon proved himself last season and again sparkled in the Waterford Crystal Cup. Last Sunday, Graeme Mulcahy showed what he can do when the supply line is fast and well placed.
Conor Allis is another who has played in both league games and started seen action in defence, midfield and attack. He displayed great composure when assuming the free-taking duties when Dowling was injured in O’Moore Park and that confidence should stand to me and perhaps wing forward could be his position for this season.
Twenty five players have seen league action to date from the panel of 32. Nickie Quaid is a definite starter for May 27 in Thurles - all other position are pretty much up for grabs but 90% need to be nailed down in the coming month.
We’ll learn a lot more in the coming weeks.