In his new weekly online GAA column, Jerome O’Connell looks at the five key areas for the Limerick hurlers in 2012
There is no doubting that there is some exciting talent coming through the ranks in Limerick and watching them mature into senior hurlers could be a great journey for hurling followers. Even a scan through the team-sheets of the varying Fitzgibbon Cup games over the past week shows the number of young Limerick hurlers that are making an impression across the country - Wayne McNamara (GMIT), Conor Allis (UCD), Tommy Quaid (CIT), Thomas O’Brien (UL) and the largest group with LIT - Richie McCarthy, Jason Hayes, Paudie O’Brien, Eoin Ryan, Paul Browne, Seanie O’Brien and Colin Madden.
The Fitzgibbon Cup is now a great breeding ground and while many of these players were not available for the games against Clare, they will play roles this season with John Allen’s side.
In total Limerick used 25 players in the two ties against Clare and 11 of these have no senior inter-county championship experience. It’s great to see the net been cast wide and I don’t think any clubs could argue that there are players being overlooked
The only thing about the young talent is that they will need time to develop into top class senior inter-county hurlers, which is very different from top class underage hurling.
The physical demands are the most striking differences and against Clare, and it wasn’t a full strength Banner side, there were times when some of the younger players didn’t have the physical strength to hold off their opponents.
Most of these players will not have experienced that intensity both on and off the field. They must decide if they are willing to give over seven, eight or nine months of their year to almost full-time training, rehab, rest and dietary regimes.
It was great to see in the course of both games that there was a real desire to win. Limerick followers among the 1,040 in Sixmilebridge will have heard the calls of Wayne McNamara echo across the night sky as he urged a greater intensity and work-rate. In fairness, Limerick did hunt in packs at varying stages over the two games. At club, college and county U-21 level many of the present panel are used to winning and this could be a key ingredient for 2012.
Two of the key positions for John Allen, Ciaran Carey, John Kiely and Eamonn Meskell are the Number 3 and Number 6 jerseys.
Tom Condon was handed the full back berth against Clare and he was certainly determined to hold onto the spot with sterling performances. He is likely to face opposition from Richie McCarthy and, perhaps even, Brian Geary.
I thought Wayne McNamara looked very comfortable in the opening half in Sixmilebridge and if he can build on the progress of last season he will be a great asset somewhere across the half back line or even midfield.
It’s a pity Seamus Hickey will miss much of the league because the versatile Murroe-Boher man would benefit from nailing down one position in the team. Other centre back options are Gavin O’Mahony, the veteran Brian Geary and there is also James O’Brien to return from Na Piarsaigh duty.
Limerick are not exactly alone in bemoaning a lack of scoring power. But perhaps the picture is not as bad as we think. Yes, against Clare all did not look so hot in the forward division. Limerick scored 2-30 in almost three hours of hurling and Declan Hannon accounted for 1-20 of that from frees and play. Indeed of the 12 starting forwards, they only scored four points.
But it’s worth remembering that the attack is yet to take shape and the likes of Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling, David Breen, the O’Brien brothers and Sean Tobin were all absent against Clare.
Moulding the best six in the forwards will be interesting to watch. The 2012 season is up and running now and it will go up a gear with the opening league match against Clare on Saturday, February 25. For Limerick hurling supporters, it can’t come soon enough.