In his weekly Limerick Leader GAA column, Martin Kiely looks back on Limerick’s poor showing against Clare in the Allianz Hurling League
For a short period of time it all seemed to be going according to plan at the Gaelic Grounds last Saturday night.
The game was twenty minutes old and Limerick were leading 1-6 to 0-4. In those early minutes Shane Dowling, playing in his first National League game, produced enough to confirm what we already knew and overall it appeared Limerick were in control of the game at that stage. Niall Moran had scored the goal after Graeme Mulcahy and David Breen had done most of the important work while Dowling, James Ryan and Conor Allis had added the points.
Little did most people think at that stage that things would take such a dramatic twist and in the remaining fifteen or so minutes up to half time, Limerick would be outscored by 1-9 to two points. I was very impressed by Clare but this was no surprise to me and some weeks ago I flagged it in this paper. Limerick lost James Ryan early in the game and he was a huge loss out of midfield because we struggled in this area for the entire game. The Clare fight back began when Colin Ryan scored a fine goal after a well directed pass from Conor McGrath but Paudie O’ Brien, who had replaced James Ryan, had two chances to stand him up but his efforts were well away from the standards required to play hurling at this level.
That goal injected new life into Clare and the nine points they scored in the remainder of the first half effectively killed the game as a contest. Conor McGrath, Sean Collins and young Cathal McInerney landed some great scores but at that stage Limerick were at sea and had lost the battle in most of the key positions on the field.
Clare played with huge intensity and to be honest Limerick were unable to match them in any way and that must be a real worry given that we are only twelve weeks away from the championship. The Banner Boys were full of running and moved the ball with great pace - this was to put huge pressure on so many Limerick players who clearly struggled to match the fitness levels of Clare whose approach was streets ahead of Limerick from the warm up to the warm down.
Declan Hannon was unable to start for Limerick due to injury but I doubt even his undoubted talent would have made any difference on the night.
Quite frankly this was a very poor display from Limerick and there is no excuse that can be offered to explain the poor fitness levels of the players and the quality of our hurling.
The League this year will be over quickly and teams have only five matches so it was known from a very early stage that teams would have to hit the ground running. Limerick getting to the semi final would be great but from my stand point I would like to see seeds that will be growing well come championship time but from what I saw in this game against Clare I feel we have huge ground to make up.
The second half of the game was mere shooting practice for Clare as Limerick faded badly. Limerick only scored five points and two of them were from frees.
Limerick were in trouble in most lines and unless we sort the core of the team then I cannot see this team making any progress this year.
The defence were in huge trouble for all of the game. This left the full backline very open and they were badly exposed. As a hurler I rate Richie McCarthy but, as I have said many times before, he will not survive at inter county level. He has very good hands but his footwork will always mean he will struggle against players with pace.
He was not helped by the fact that the ball was coming in waves, Limerick were out hurled at midfield and the half back line of Conor Allis, Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’ Mahony lost their shape from an early stage.
McNamara worked hard but he would be better suited to the wing. O’Mahony had the flu in the week leading up to the game and that in some way might explain his poor form. Clare scored 1-12 in the second half and that could have been much more because too many Limerick players had given up long before the end. Limerick did bring on some subs as the game progressed but, in fairness to them, they were never going to come to terms with the Clare challenge at that stage.
Clare came to the Gaelic Grounds with a massive desire to win this game and I am long enough looking at teams to know that Limerick were not in the same space. Davy Fitzgerald might be driving his team hard but they are responding. Fitzgerald has some great people working with him, people like Louis Mulqueen, Joe O’ Connor and Paul Kinnerk bring massive experience and most of all he has young players who are willing to push themselves to the limit.
I feared from early on that Limerick would struggle in this game with Clare because, as mentioned three weeks ago, I have studied the training of the major teams in Munster over the past couple of months and from what I saw I knew Limerick were behind. It is impossible to bring intensiveness to matches unless you are doing it in training and at no stage when it was needed most did Limerick stand up to Clare.
Some supporters might feel we made massive progress last year but I never saw it that way because we finished the year not knowing any line of our team for the year ahead. If people think we made progress last year then Limerick supporters have set the bar very low.
The new management now have to build a new team and they can no longer keep looking at some of the players they have. Brian O’ Sullivan was dropped a couple of weeks ago from the panel and this to me was just another occasion when this player was wronged.
O’Sullivan is a quality player and has much to offer, his confidence levels have taken a battering while others rest easy on the bench but have little future with Limerick. The time to act is now. The management have to make hard calls and surround themselves with the best people to prepare the team and also make sure they have players who will go through the pain barrier to become great. The way some parts of this management team were put in place has left unanswered questions for me but the time has come for someone to put Limerick hurling first and not any friends certain people that have left might have had.
Limerick does have some fine young players coming through but talent is only part of the mix now needed to win at the highest level. The conditions to win have to be put in place and most of all you have to have an honest player who will give you everything. I may be wrong but some lads are still dreaming about last year. Unless some action is taken very quickly I would really fear for us playing Tipperary. Limerick has to get the centre line of the team right, 3,6,11 and 14 must be settled and from here progress can be made. Losing in the way that we did against Clare will clear the minds of many and it’s not too late to get the ship going in the right direction. John Allen is a good guy and will be honest in his approach and it’s not a time for anyone to be calling for his head but he does need to set a foundation and a clear road map for this team.
I don’t expect to see Limerick winning anything major over the next two years but I would like to see that we are making progress and that by 2015 we have a team capable of winning an All Ireland title.
Huge efforts are being made in developing talent at underage levels in Limerick and I am sure all of that work will one day pay off.
The senior hurling team drives most things in Limerick G.A.A and if they are competing well then our young players develop ambition and have players to look up to. Limerick play Laois away on the 11th of March and a week later are also on the road against Wexford. The remaining games see them play Offaly at home and Antrim away. A win would have made a massive difference against Clare as it would have set the tone for the rest of the National League but a couple of wins will lift the spirits again and let’s hope the team can get back on track and be ready for Tipperary in twelve weeks time.