Jerome O’Connell looks ahead to Limerick’s clash with Antrim as they go in search of a place in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1B final.
Sunday’s game in Belfast is effectively a Division 1B semi-final.
And, it’s not over estimating the importance to suggest that the result will determine how the 2012 league campaign is to be remembered for Limerick.
It’s just about plausible that the opening round collapse to Clare could be overlooked as an opening day blip if Limerick were to win on Sunday and set up a rematch against Davy Fitzgerald and Co.
But anything other than an Division 1B final appearance would be a step in the wrong direction for Limerick hurling.
Of course, Sunday is not a winner-takes-all situation with other factors at all.
The unfortunate thing from a Limerick point of view is that eventual outcome is not entirely in their own hands.
One of the big questions this week surrounded the possibility of Clare fielding a weakened side against Offaly in Tullamore.
Were Offaly to beat Clare then Limerick’s task becomes almost impossible as Limerick have a far inferior scoring difference The Faithful County.
Despite the presence of Davy’s ex-Clare colleague Ollie Baker and Alan Cunningham (father of current Clare senior Aaron) in the Offaly dressing room I can’t believe that Fitzgerald would want to interrupt his side’s unbeaten run.
Anyway, why would Clare prefer Offaly over Limerick as league final opponents?
Limerick would certainly have the revenge factor in another Shannonside derby, but surely hurling is not gone that far that managements are analysing that minutely.
Last October many had pinpointed Jerry Wallace as the key man in the selection of Donal O’Grady’s successor as Limerick hurling manager.
As team coach, Wallace could not have been regarded any higher by the players.
It was widely felt that he needed to remain part of the management team for the sake of continuity and his expertise.
Indeed some argued that Wallace should have been handed the managers role.
But instead Limerick opted for John Allen and coach Donach O’Donnell (who manages Nenagh CBS in Saturday’s All-Ireland colleges final against Kilkenny CBS in Thurles).
Wallace was then appointed Antrim manager - he was previously coach to the Saffrons.
No matter that he would say publicly, Wallace would surely love to turn Limerick over.
And lets not forget that an Antrim win would mean they are league finalists, if Clare beat Offaly.
And, Antrim hurling is clearly on a high after Loughgiel Shamrock’s All-Ireland club win.
While some of the victorious club side will play on Sunday only time will tell is talisman Liam Watson lines out as he is understood to be taking a break until the league ends.
HOUSE IN ORDER
John Allen maintains that Limerick can only worry about their own result on Sunday and he is correct, of course.
This is another chance for Limerick to progress and that fact that all league games have been of a ‘must-win’ nature has only helped.
Certainly the team are now playing with more cohesion, pace and intensity but there is still some way to go.
Limerick will be without Seamus Hickey and Declan Hannon but all other could be togged out. Shane Dowling played 20-minutes for Na Piarsaigh on Tuesday night but doesn’t look ready for a full 70-minutes yet.
THE STATE OF PLAY
Next up: Antrim V Limerick - Casement Park; Offaly V Clare - O’Connor Park; Wexford V Laois - Wexford Park. All games are next Sunday at 2.30pm
>> Clare are assured of their place in the Division 1B final as they cannot be caught at the top of the table
>> Limerick , Offaly and Antrim are all in with a chance of reaching the decider
>> To reach the league final, Limerick need to beat Antrim in Casement Park and hope that Clare beat Offaly
>> If Offaly and Limerick finish on the same number of points in second place, then it will come down to scoring difference. Therefore, Limerick would need a big win over Antrim to overtake Offaly if both teams won
>> The winner of the Division 1B final will be promoted to Division 1A next season and will also play in this year’s Division 1 semi-final