THE Limerick SHC starts this Bank Holiday weekend with six games.
Jerome O’Connell rates the Limerick senior hurling clubs from 1-12 and will be updating the ratings as the season goes on.
1. Na Piarsaigh
The champions have a depth of talent that every single club in the county would want. Just last week they won their fourth U-21 crown in five years.
Not only are they setting out on defence of their Limerick SHC but also their Munster club title.
Back in 2012 they were disappointed to fall below their high standards in their title defence. This time round they are fully focused and the arrival of new management, Shane O’Neill and Kieran Bermingham, should bring renewed vigour.
Of interest will the shape of their starting line-up with a variety of players that can fill varying roles. Crucially they have a number of forwards aplenty that can score.
It says a lot about the ambitions of the club and their profile that they can replace one former inter-county manager with another - Ger O’Loughlin replacing Tony Considine.
Crucially O’Loughlin is most familiar to the club scene in Limerick and indeed Kilmallock, from his time with Adare.
Their is potential to reshape the Kilmallock team and no doubt a new voice will bring new ideas.
Graeme Mulcahy is their standout attacker from general play and finding a constant attacking ally for the inter-county man is key.
They will be hot favourites to win at least four of their group encounters and to an experienced unit this should not be an issue and O’Loughlin will be conscious to have them peaking for the business end of the championship next September.
For varying reasons Adare are under their third management in three years - despite contesting the last two county finals.
Former Limerick minor manager Shane Fitzgibbon and his inter-county side-kick Ger Cunningham are now at the helm.
There is no doubting they have talent at their disposal but all will need to be at their best in every game in a most competitive group. They have been caught by Bruree and Knockainey in recent seasons and face into two tough opening round games against Doon and Murroe-Boher.
Declan Hannon has inspired his colleagues in many encounters since 2009 but as he battles back to full fitness others like John Fitzgibbon and Willie Griffin will need to be at their best in the early rounds.
Much attention will focus on a Doon side that sparkled last season. Their youthful side beat eventual champions Na Piarsaigh, in the group stages, enroute to the semi-final, where they just lost out to Adare by two points.
Richie English, Darragh O’Donovan and Cathal McNamara were all part of the Limerick senior set-up during the NHL and should have benefitted from that training. Their young guns, particularly, will look to build on their progress and stature as they bid to mature into inter-county players of the future.
Second season syndrome is a concern in a group of many pitfalls.
The Clarina men need to build on their maiden season back in the top flight. They achieved their goal last season when reaching the quarter-final. That game thought them much and lessons learned will have to provide the platform for this year.
However, they have a new management this season and will need to hit the ground running to garner points if they are to return to the knockout stages.
With the big two favoured to advance, Ballybrown will have to target games against Liberties, Granagh-Ballingarry and Effin as key outings.
There was much disappointment in The Well last season when they failed to reach the knockout stages. They regrouped to win the County Cup.
Their two opening round games, Ahane and Knockainey, must be wins if they are to build on last season.
The pain of last weekend’s county U-21 final loss to Na Piarsaigh should have all focused for this Sunday. The last two seasons have seen the men in blue and gold show promise on the forward foot but suffer in defence.
Natal O’Grady will stress the need for consistency and reaching the knockout stages from their group would be a job well done.
The 19-times Limerick SHC winners had it all too easy in their group games last season and they suffered when it came to the quarter-final, where they collapsed to a Na Piarsaigh barrage of scores.
It’s very different this season with Patrickswell and Doon in the opening two games over the next two weekends.
David Cuddy, Phelim Mackem, Clem Smith and Co have some underage talent to work with his moulding a new-look side is still the quest. They will need to get the best from recently retired inter-county man Niall Moran and the role of current Limerick panelist Dan Morrissey will also be interesting.
The east Limerick men will surely welcome the new five game format with open arms after scoring difference was their downfall in two recent seasons. They beat Knockainey and Bruree last season and still failed to advance.
They face familiar foes in the All-Blacks and Knockainey in the opening two games and at least one win is a must. They have highly rated coach Darren Moynihan on board and are boosted by a return to training of Seamus Hickey.
9. South Liberties
It’s remarkable that Sean Hehir remains at the helm as he enters his sixth season. Since progressing up from the intermediate ranks Liberties have made steady advances while also introducing new younger talent. That has continued this season but they will be mindful that in Group Two there are possibilities for the Dooley Park side to make another visit to the business end of the championship. They suffered at the hands of Doon in the quarter-final last September but wins over Garryspillane and Croom were the highlights of a progression season.
What a performance it was to beat Adare in the group stages last season. The All Blacks played some outstanding hurling on the night to add to their round one win over Bruree. That quarter-final against Kilmallock is one they would prefer to forget but overall 2013 would have to be seen as a year of positives - especially given the restructuring of the championship from 16 down to 12 teams. They are under new management, like so many other sides, and will know that early wins are vital, particularly when they find themselves in the harder of the two groups.
The group stages of the Limerick SHC have not been kind to the west Limerick men in the past two seasons. But vitally they found goals to beat Garryspillane in the relegation battle last season. They then hurled with some freedom in the County Cup and beat Effin to reach a final where they were lost to Patrickswell. John Tuohy has joined their management as hurling coach and can help them find their style of some years ago.
The south Limerick side struggled last year to find their form of the previous three years. To be fair Bruree was key to the club and they did that to maintain status. But now, under new management, they need to raise standards again and can very much look to attain key results in a number of games in their five match group stage.