Limerick set about building a foundation for the championship last weekend when they played Offaly in a game to mark the 125th anniversary of Pallasgreen GAA club.
One could sense that Limerick have gotten over the loss to Clare in the National League final a few weeks ago and some of the players that have not featured so much in the league were used in this game. The game was very well attended and as always Pallasgreen had left nothing to chance and the contest was a fitting way to mark such a great year for the club. This game saw the return of Seamus Hickey who has been out of the country for the past few months and in fairness the Murroe Boher man did not look out of place.
Itâ€™s clear he must have been working hard during his spell away and just like last year the management chose to play him at centre back. I have said before that this is not his best position and I would much prefer to see him in the full backline. He did well for a man who has been out of contact with hurling but one sees that his hurling was still quite crisp.
The defence was a problem during the League and in particular the full backline and this was the first time Brian Geary played a full game this year and while he still has a bit to go he did well at full back. His powerful frame commanded the square and from his body shape you know he has worked very hard over the past couple of months.
The early morning sessions that Geary has done himself has moved his progress on a fair bit. Limerick needed to sort out the full backline and with Geary moving in the right direction I would like to see Seamus Hickey and Tom Condon as his corner men. Hickey has massive pace while Condon has proven he is well capable of holding his own at this level.
This is a very important line for Limerick as itâ€™s an area that Tipperary has some serious talent in. Limerick will be given no chance against Tipperary in around five weeks time but if they can strengthen some of the key positions they can at least make life very difficult for Tipperary.
Limerick hit some great scores in this game against Offaly and I was impressed with some of the lads who seem to be getting into a bit of form. Thomas Oâ€™Brien has been out of sorts due to injury over the past few months but he looked like a lad coming into a bit of form in this game. He has talent and the pace of the modern game is ideally suited to a player like him. He scored three fine points from play in this game and looked very sharp on a heavy pitch. Shane Dowling, Seanie Oâ€™Brien and Thomas Oâ€™Brien helped Limerick to a seven points to three lead after 20 minutes with all seven points coming from play.
Both teams did try out some panel players and in Limerickâ€™s case some of them will make it difficult for so called first choice players. Competition should make training so much better in the weeks prior to championship and now players on the verge will be really pushing themselves in training. As challenge games go this match had a bit of bite, only two points separated the teams at half time with Limerick leading by two points 0-10 to 0-8.
Limerick pulled the lever early in the second half and Offaly found it hard to match Limerick when it came to scores. Limerick played good direct hurling and hit some great points. With 20 minutes gone in the second half Limerick had raced into a 0-20 to 0-11 lead and they were very much in control. Dowling, Niall Maher and Thomas Oâ€™Brien were on target while the impressive Tomas Ryan from South Liberties also found the range.
Ryan hurled well and I would say we have yet to see the best of this young man. His feet are good and his skill level is high and the only thing he now requires is to get games at a high level. He has the ability to make it at this level and as the ground firms I would expect his hurling to further improve.
Indeed, another South Liberties man, Shane Oâ€™Neill had a fine game and made life difficult for Offalyâ€™s best forward Shane Dooley. Oâ€™Neill is a very honest player who is well suited to life on the intercounty scene.
Overall this was a good eveningâ€™s work by Limerick and the management will be happy to see some fringe players coming into form. Limerick play Dublin next Sunday and that will be a further test because Dublin will travel with a strong team.
David Breen, who was injured in the National League Final against Clare, looked like he was going to be out for a few weeks but the news is good in this regard and he is expected to return to training next week. Breen was a huge loss when he had to depart against Clare due to injury but his return is another positive for the team as they build towards the championship.
I saw Tipperary play Cork last Sunday and it was clear they had no interest in getting to a league final. The focus in Tipperary is the championship and they have the players to go a long way and Limerick will have to improve greatly if they are to challenge them in a real way.
Limerick wonâ€™t fear Tipperary but they will have to be very smart in the way they approach the game. Tipperary will have an eye on Cork and if Limerick can take the game to them then one never knows what can happen in a game of hurling.
For the club in Pallasgreen, last weekend was special and great credit is due to the club and the various committees who must have worked so hard over the past few weeks. This club has huge tradition and it was great to see so many of the gaels who have given so much over the years still working hard to make this game a success.
The club is the heart of most parishes and when the call goes out for help itâ€™s then that you see clubs working at their best. Pallasgreen have many more events planned for the remainder of the year and if they are all run as well as last week then they will have many happy memories of what is a most special year for them.