Disappointing but Limerick must go again

Jerome O’Connell

Reporter:

Jerome O’Connell

Limerick manager TJ Ryan
CHARLES de Gaulle proclaimed on June 18, 1940: ‘France has lost a battle. But France has not lost the war’.

CHARLES de Gaulle proclaimed on June 18, 1940: ‘France has lost a battle. But France has not lost the war’.

As the days pass this week the essence of de Gaulle’s quotation is resonating more and more with all involved with Limerick hurling.

Yes, Limerick lost a Munster final.

But lets remember that despite all the emotion of last season’s Munster SHC title, the real lingering emotion of 2013 came in Croke Park when Limerick failed meekly in the All Ireland semi-final.

Both manager TJ Ryan and captain Donal O’Grady spoke of “a new competition” when referencing the July 27 quarter-final and that’s exactly the scenario.

TARGETS

Limerick set out on 2014 with a number of goals.

The first would have been to secure a return to the top flight of the National Hurling League. Ultimately they fell short my a handful of minutes with Offaly snatching a dramatic late draw in the penultimate round of action when Limerick looked destined to return to Division One.

Limerick did actually go through that group phase unbeaten but last Sunday the evidence of four years outside of the top flight could be seen.

With some key players in trouble, TJ Ryan and selectors did not have sufficient experienced players to call from the bench. Many listed 16-26 have played in the league but if they had been tested against the likes of Kilkenny in Nowlan Park or Galway in Salthill rather than Laois or Antrim would management have been quicker to utilise?

Target two was to end a 41-year wait for a championship win over Tipperary in Thurles and despite the ructions of weeks earlier with Donal O’Grady’s departure, Limerick triumphed to continue on their provincial title defence.

Target three was to retain the Munster crown for the first time since 1980-’81.

Limerick fell short.

But all must move onto target four - to return to the All Ireland semi-final.

Standing between Limerick and that quest will be Waterford or Wexford on Sunday July 27 at 2pm in Thurles.

Victory would propel Limerick into a Croke Park August 17 semi-final against Leinster champions Kilkenny.

GOALS

Just three times in the last 50 years the Munster title has been won by a side not scoring a goal.

Limerick actually won two of these titles (1994 and 2013) but it goes to show that goals do win games.

A quick look back at Limerick’s elimination from the championship in the last three years is further proof.

In 2011 Limerick lost a quarter-final to Dublin (3-13 to 0-18), in 2012 Kilkenny were quarter-final winners (4-16 to 1-16), while last August in the All Ireland semi-final against Clare it was 1-22 to 0-18.

Simply, Limerick need to find more goals to win the big games.

Last Sunday turned on goals.

Coming down the home stretch the sides were level - 0-18 each with 17 minutes to play.

Then Cork struck for goal. Limerick regained composure but Cork again found the net to finally see off the brave Limerick challenge.

Twice before Cork raised the first green flag, Limerick went close to goals - 24 minutes into the first half and 16 minutes into the second half. Had either crashed to the net, all could have been different.

MUNSTER FINAL

The absence of goals is just one of the lessons to be learned from last Sunday.

While Limerick did start well, the extra games that Cork had in preparation may have helped in the final quarter.

The Cork lungs had been pushed to the limit by Waterford (twice) and Clare, while Limerick only had the battle with Tipperary to get their championship feet. And crucially that game was way back on June 1.

Until last Sunday, Limerick’s half-back line had been the rock that the team was built on. Cork went about dismantling the trio and it certainly worked.

As well as the dominating performances of the Cork half forward trio of Harnedy, Lehane and Cooper, it also opened the supply lines to their inside trio.

And, it cut off quality ball to the Limerick attack.

In fairness to the Limerick trio of O’Brien, O’Mahony and McNamara they aren’t usually found wanting and as three of the leaders of this team they will bounce back.

It’s also worth remembering that Limerick went ‘toe-to-toe’ with Cork and therefore the half forwards weren’t asked to provide a protective shield to the half backs like last season under John Allen.

QUARTER-FINAL

Beating either Waterford or Wexford would put Limerick back in a position where they want to be - Croke Park.

Within the panel there are demons that they want to rid and Croker Park is destination for that.

To be fair, neither Waterford or Wexford in Thurles would be a fixture that Limerick shouldn’t fear.

The panel had a swimming pool recovery session in the Woodlands Hotel this Monday evening and the training schedule for the week was Wednesday and Friday.

They can take solace from the statistics that show Clare (2013), Tipperary (2010) and Cork (2004) have all won All Irelands without a Munster title. Indeed Cork in 2005 and Tipp in 2001 are the only times that the Munster champions lifted the Liam MacCarthy in the last 15 years.

Mentally Limerick are strong. Come Saturday night they will have a quarter-final opponent to focus.

They won’t deviate from their quest and neither should supporters.