Limerick Leader GAA columnist Martin Kiely talks to Limerick football manager Maurice Horan ahead of their league campaign
Without ever checking the calendar, you have a fair idea that January has come to a close when you hear that the National Football League is about to start. The second most important competition in the GAA kicks into action this weekend and with it the aspirations of so many teams whose main goal will be to win promotion but also to make sure they have developed new talent for the championship.
The closed season was brought in for player welfare reasons but it has turned out to be a joke and most counties are now ignoring the guidelines as laid out by Croke Park. I remember a time when the leagues were started a few weeks before Christmas and those first three games allowed new talent come through and find their way at inter county level.
The current situation is not working and we have lads trying to pack so much into the first few weeks of January in the hope of getting it right for the opening games of the league. The entire fixtures programme as it stands in the GAA calendar needs urgent attention and unless some bright spark in Croke Park sees what is happening on the ground then I fear for the club player going forward.
Croke Park is fast becoming like a corporate company but in their case they are not listening to their share holders. The GAA as we know it at club level is under huge pressure but sadly the clubs of this country are being poorly served by the full-time paid staff in Croke Park.
There was a time when the people in Croke Park had the love of our games as their core principle but that has long since gone. The games of hurling and football have to be very special to survive the challenges they face from within because too many people are more worried about protecting themselves rather than making sure our great national games are secured for the future.
The recent corporate model now being used by Croke Park might suggest an organisation at the top of its game but if they are honest they will know that the foundation is weakening right across the country as players leave Ireland in search of work. The club base going forward will not be anything like we know it and that will bring many challenges to all parts of the association.
The small group of hardcore supporters that follow Limerick football will make the journey to Leitrim next Sunday when the home side will provide the opposition for the opening round game in Division 4. This game and the game that follows against London will be very important for Limerick as they could very well provide the foundation to return to Division 3 next year. Over the past few years Limerick has had patchy results in the league but to their credit they always managed to get it right for the championship.
That in itself is a great tribute to the teams that played but if we are to look at the long term then the place to really mould players for the future is in the league. Limerick should not have lost their way in the league last year and should have cemented their place instead of falling further and winding up in Division 4 which could prove a very hard place to progress from.
The big difficulty for a county like Limerick is that we do not have the player pool like other counties and when some of our key players are injured then that provides huge challenges when it comes to winning games. This Sunday’s meeting against Leitrim will be very interesting because Limerick are missing a number of key players and that will require others to lift their game if they are to have any chance of opening with a brace of points.
Over the past few weeks the team has worked hard in training and also played some games but one would hope they will raise their game a few levels as they were far from impressive in some of the early season games. Maurice Horan is going into his second year as manager and I would imagine he will be a lot wiser from the experiences of last year.
Horan would have had a fair idea of what he was letting himself in for having spent a year as a selector but it is never the same. The manager’s role brings with it many challenges and often the playing part can be the easiest but the Mayo man says he has good people around him. “You could not do this job without the help of so many and in that regard I am blessed to have a group of people who are working so hard.
“The players work hard also but they get to play whereas the people in the background do their work without any fuss and make sure they do the best for the players. The demands of the job are so different now to years ago, before you went to training and that was that but now there is so much to do by way of planning sessions and making sure injured players are sorted. I am fortunate that I can share the load because the people working with me are very much on the ball.”
Limerick had chances to come out of Division 3 last year but lost some crucial games that they looked like winning and that proved very costly when the points were counted. “We played some fine football in the league last year and we were very unlucky to find ourselves going to Division 4. We can wonder how we allowed that to happen or we can learn from the experience and try and make sure we get out of there this year.
“The league is very competitive no matter what level you play in but we know we have some big games coming up and we will do all in our power to get results in them”.
Limerick will travel to Leitrim this Sunday but they will be short many players who are out injured and Maurice Horan knows how difficult it will be to get a result away from home. “We will be without many first choice players who are recovering from injuries and that will put pressure on us but for the lads who will start this game they have a chance to lay a serious marker for the year ahead. We need to strengthen the bench because every player you bring on now must be able to make a contribution. It will be hard to win in Leitrim but if we can come away with a win it would be a great start to the campaign.”
Maurice Horan is softly spoken but behind the mask is someone who is deeply interested in football, the Ballinrobe man was raised on a diet of football and from a very early age he was left in no doubt how important the game of football was. He has a great passion for the game and the players are responding to him. One player described him to me this week. “He is growing into the job. I can see more steel this year already but overall the lads have great time for him and he has a way of getting the best from them for the championship.”
Limerick have been favoured with a good draw in the Championship this year and if they can develop a few new players in the league then a place in the Munster final looks within their grasp. Horan, however, is taking nothing for granted. “I know what counties like Clare and Waterford are doing and I can assure you we will not take anyone for granted. Our first goal is to have a good league and see where we go from there.
“Our ambition would be to get back to another Munster final but the lads know that that can only be achieved by putting in a huge effort and hoping to get the odd vital break along the way.”
This year could define his career as a manager and from what I have seen already this year Horan has learned a lot and has much more to offer.