Limerick Leader GAA columnist Martin Kiely picks the Limerick hurling team that he thinks should play in the All Ireland Qualifiers.
In a strange sort of way Limerick’s defeat by Tipperary in the Munster Championship could, in time, be viewed as the beginning of a new era in Limerick hurling.
Defeat has a way of teaching valuable lessons for those open to learning and change. The management of the Limerick senior hurling team will, at this stage I hope, have reflected on that game, what mistakes were made on the line and on the field.
Such reflection must be very honest and the people charged with guiding Limerick hurling have a duty to make sure that the core of the team is sorted for the long term good of the team and the game in Limerick.
For the past few years the major difficulty with the team has been that the key positions at full back, centre back, centre forward and full forward have lacked the solidity that is needed to make real progress at this level.
Look at all of the good teams and the one common denominator is that the spine of those teams is made up of exceptional players who can control their positions.
The team that played against Tipperary showed great heart and passion and none of the players could be faulted for the honesty of their efforts. However, if we are really serious about building a team that can challenge both in the qualifiers and over the next few years then changes will have to be made.
This will require the management to make a few brave calls but if they have reflected honestly then making such hard calls will be accepted by the players and supporters.
Limerick cannot face into next year and not have the positions I mentioned above sorted. Limerick will only make progress when these positions are in secure hands.
We can take the view that, didn’t we do well against Tipperary and why change anything now, but if the management don’t show leadership now they will find the public will be very unforgiving. In this regard I have, this week, decided to try and pick the team I would play in the qualifiers in a few weeks time.
Everyone will have their own views but I feel strongly that we have to change for now but, more importantly, for the long term good of Limerick hurling.
Nicky Quaid is in goal and since taking up that position he has made it very much his own. As a county we have a number of very good keepers and at the moment Aaron Murphy is his understudy.
Some would have the view that Quaid should be played in the half backline and I feel he would more than hold his own here and Murphy would take over in goal. For the moment though I will leave the Effin man in goal.
The full backline showed bravery against Tipperary but as the pressure mounted cracks appeared and the foundation for any winning team has to be a very solid defence. Seamus Hickey will come back into the corner and he has the ability to do a very good job. He must however stay close to goal and avoid making long runs up field.
Richie McCarthy showed his desire and played well against Tipperary but for a few reasons I think David Breen is a better option. Breen to me is better facing the ball and his size and power is will be needed in the challenges ahead. Tom Condon has made the other corner position his own and is developing into a very solid defender.
The formula to success has always rested with the half backline but over the past ten years or so that has even come more into focus. The players on this line can dictate the outcome of the game and in this regard it’s vital that Limerick strengthen this area. For sheer heart and determination Wayne McNamara would cause problems to most but I have decided to go with young Tomas Ryan from South Liberties. He has done well in all of the games up to now and his pace going forward would provide many options.
At centre back I have decided on Declan Hannon. This is the most natural position for the Adare man. He has the class to not only defend well but also to contribute three to four points from this position. Gavin O’ Mahony will complete this line and if he can produce what he did in the first half against Tipperary for a full game then this to me has the makings of a stronger unit.
It has taken a while for James Ryan to be played with regularity in his best position at midfield and with every game he is getting better. His work rate can match anyone at this level at the current time.
His partner Paul Browne has superb footwork and his ability to hit on the run makes him hard to mark. Limerick needs this line to be hitting a couple of points from play and then they will be the complete package.
As I said recently picking forwards was never easy for Limerick but that is beginning to change. Shane Dowling will start this line and he has shown great maturity. At centre forward I have gone for Donal O’Grady, this is a role he can player very well but it also provides him with the opportunity to win breaking ball from midfield and as we know he is well able to score. Conor Allis will fill the other wing and as I said a couple of years ago we have yet to see the best of him.
The full forward line is possibly the easiest to fill. Sean Tobin has learned a lot from last year and he gave Michael Cahill a roasting in Thurles. Kevin Downes has found his form and with the right sort of supply can do damage long into the future.
Graeme Mulcahy will fill the final position and that is no great surprise. Mulcahy is fast building a serious reputation as a forward of real class. The closer we can hold him to goal the better his results will be.
The purpose of picking teams like this is to generate debate and no two people will agree on the same team.
The team I have picked has a core line of strength that could cause problems for many teams. What was very clear in Thurles is that the bench needs to be added to. Having lads on the panel for mere cover is no longer good enough.
For me Tommy O’ Brien from Patrickswell was hard done by last year but he has shown signs in challenge games that his form is returning. With a bit of confidence O’ Brien has the hands and pace to not only come on but to challenge for a starting place.
Limerick has a lot of good lads coming along and it’s so important that we start to set some achievable goals. Next year forty years will have passed since we last won an All Ireland but our focus now has to be all about winning the Munster Championship.
It takes three years to build an All Ireland winning team but that is only possible when management use sensible and meticulous coaching. Management must be prepared to make the big calls and the set up around the team has to be top class.
The County Board needs to provide the sort of backing required and not have management begging for “water and energy drinks”. The qualifiers provide Limerick with a great opportunity and let’s hope we can build on what we saw in Thurles.
Martin Kiely’s Limerick hurling team for the Qualifiers
1. Nickie Quaid (Effin)
2. Tom Condon (Knockaderry)
3. David Breen (Na Piarsaigh)
4. Seamus Hickey (Murroe-Boher)
5. Tomas Ryan (South Liberties)
6. Declan Hannon (Adare)
7. Gavin O’Mahony (Kilmallock)
8. Paul Browne (Bruff)
9. James Ryan (Garryspillane)
10. Shane Dowling (Na Piarsaigh)
11. Donal O’Grady (Granagh-Ballingarry)
12. Conor Allis (Croom)
13. Graeme Mulcahy (Kilmallock)
14. Kevin Downes (Na Piarsaigh)
15. Sean Tobin (Murroe-Boher)