MARTIN KIELY COLUMN: Fitness the biggest problem

Limerick Leader GAA columnist Martin Kiely says a lack of fitness was the biggest problem in Limerick’s league final loss to Clare

Limerick Leader GAA columnist Martin Kiely says a lack of fitness was the biggest problem in Limerick’s league final loss to Clare

The final score does not really tell the tale. Only two points between the teams in the end but, in reality, it was Clare who produced the better hurling and made the least mistakes at a crucial stage in the game.

Limerick had the outcome of this game in their hands not once but twice and with a lead of eight points ten minutes into the second half Clare looked well and truly washed up.

How Limerick lost this game might remain a mystery to some but to me this game was lost because Limerick weren’t able for the physical and mental battle and Clare wore them down for the last 20 minutes of the game. Why was that the case?

When Clare pulled the lever Limerick were unable to follow and as I mentioned here on a few occasions the fitness levels of the team were way below what is now expected at this level.

To me that is not good enough. It’s a drastic situtaion that requires drastic action. Immediately.

Long before the National League started I mentioned how I had gone to see all the major teams in Munster training and it was clear to me in January that we had some way to go to catch up to what other teams were doing.

Limerick have only trained two nights a week on average and that was never going to be good enough. Hard calls need to be made this week otherwise the man doing the score board in Thurles will run out of numbers when championship comes around and Limerick face Tipperary. Lack of fitness leads to a lack of discipline and we saw plenty of that in this game.

Fitness is such a vital element of sport and when Clare started to deliver good ball to the forwards our full back line in particular were in real trouble and did not have the legs to cope, thus they resulted to fouling and this was one of the main reasons Clare won the game as the finished with 14 points from placed balls.

To me Limerick did not start their best team and I would have gone with Sean Tobin and Kevin Downes. Had any of these players got the chances that came our way in the first half then I feel Clare would not have recovered.

Conor Allis was not fit to start and Thomas Quaid, while he worked very hard, found the pace too hard to handle. As it was we left Clare on life support and never really put them away and as the game went on Clare’s level of fitness was becoming a major factor because we also started to lose ground at midfield and in the half backline.

For the opening 20 minutes Limerick were well on top and they should have scored at least two goals during this spell. The score at that stage saw Limerick ahead 0-10 to 0-4 and Clare had only one point from play. Limerick played some good hurling and when at full flow Clare had no answer to them.

Shane Dowling was going very well and had accounted for six of those Limerick points. David Breen was working very hard while James Ryan and Paul Browne were well on top at midfield. (Breen would later go off injured and he was a big loss to Limerick because he was making huge ground against the Clare half backline).

Overall Limerick were doing well and it was more than strange to see them bring Graeme Mulcahy out as a sweeper and to me this was a very poor decision by management.

Mulcahy had been doing very well close to goal and instead of helping the team this decision backfired and played a key role in bringing Clare back into the game.

The row that took place on the sideline between Davy Fitzgerald and John Allen also played a part in changing the game because to me Clare finished the half better and were only three points behind at the break. Davy Fitzgerald is passionate about the game but some of his antics on the sideline have no place in hurling.

Limerick won most of the puck outs in the first half and given the amount of ball we handled we should have been much further ahead. Niall Moran didn’t have a great first half but I would have given him a chance in the second half because we could have done with a little power at centre forward.

That goal from a penalty by Shane Dowling after Sean Tobin had caught a super ball from the air left Limerick in the driving seat. Seanie O’ Brien, Kevin Downes and Graeme Mulcahy had landed points and at this point it looked like Limerick were very much in control.

Little did we think then that for the remaining 27 minutes Limerick would only score two more points. That tells its own story and from now to the finish we were struggling and overall the quality of our play dropped substantially.

Clare, on the other hand, would hit seven points in a row from play and frees and many were as a result of some very poor decision making by Richie McCarthy and Tom Condon.

Limerick did have goal chances from Dowling but his cracking shot was well saved by Clare keeper Patrick Kelly. The final ten minutes or so had the bite of a championship game, the sides were level and when Clare’s Conor McGrath put Clare ahead by one with five to go it was pointing very much in their favour.

Credit to Limerick the players did battle and kept hurling to the finish and when Seanie O’ Brien slotted over it looked like extra time was on the cards.

Clare did land two more points but it was a very bad call by the umpire when he called a ’65 against Tom Condon. When the final whistle sounded it was Clare who had more scores and they will now play hurling with the big boys next year. Conor McGrath accounted for eleven points but he was a real danger for the entire game to Limerick.

I said last week that Limerick would win if they learned the lessons and while they did play much better than when they first met they still made some bad calls - on the line and also on the field. Limerick have a long way to go and no one is expecting them to do it overnight but what we all want to see is a clear road map as to how we are going to get there.

The problems I have written about before are still very much to the fore with this Limerick team. Our full backline is at sea but no real effort has been made to try and fix it. Richie McCarthy is in real trouble for pace. Tom Condon’s hurling has slipped since last year and pulling wildly on a ball in the air is not very wise at this level. Stephen Walsh did work hard but when it mattered most he also was in trouble.

Seamus Hickey is due back soon and while David Breen would be a loss to the forwards he may be the only choice they have to play at number three.

Donal O’Grady worked very hard in this game and is starting to learn the role of a centre back while O’Mahony and McNamara need to be smarter and move the ball much earlier.

Centre forward is still not sorted and we don’t have a lot of time between now and the championship. Limerick supporters need to see signs of hope for the future and right now they are left with more questions than answers.

The Limerick bench is weak and it’s clear we are struggling for players in many positions and some of the lads who have been sitting on the bench since the League started would be better off now back with their clubs.

The time has come to bring on even more younger players because unless we try and build some foundation we will be in Division 1B for some time. Finally, the surface at the Gaelic Grounds has, in recent times, gone well below what it was in the past. Compared with other grounds in Munster it has slipped. That is a pity and, just like the team, it needs urgent attention.