A great day for Limerick hurling - but lots of work still to do

Jerome O’Connell

Reporter:

Jerome O’Connell

Limerick manager TJ Ryan celebrates
THE emotion of Limerick senior hurling manager TJ Ryan says it all.

THE emotion of Limerick senior hurling manager TJ Ryan says it all.

Last Sunday was a huge day for Limerick GAA and the hurlers certainly responded to the challenge.

It was the fourth successive year that Limerick blazed a trail in the Munster SHC.

But the difference in Thurles was that Limerick had the confidence to see off all that Tipperary had to offer.

There may have been greater hurling displays from Limerick sides down the years but few were as close to ticking as many boxes as the heroes did in green and white last Sunday.

In every aspect of preparation and performance, mentally and physically they excelled.

SPIRIT

Be not fooled that Limerick won last Sunday because of their greater team spirit and character.

There is more to this Limerick team.

There is huge hurling ability.

It wasn’t spirit that saw All Star defender Richie McCarthy nullify the threat of Seamus Callanan, who had finished as top scorer in the National Hurling League with 5-62 (including frees).

It wasn’t spirit that helped Shane Dowling pick out Kevin Downes with a glorious crossfield pass in the 54th minute.

There is no denying that this group of Limerick hurlers have massive heart, determination, character, spirit and a steely hunger for success.

It comes from years of hurt and an appetite for more of the success they tasted last Summer.

Since regrouping in 2011, they have prepared themselves immaculately each season and deserve what acclaim now comes their way.

But that needs to be put on hold until the season’s end.

EXPERIENCE

These players have learned year after year and that is evident on the field of play.

Two and three years ago Limerick were on the wrong side of late flourishes in the Munster championship - now the tables have turned.

Gavin O’Mahony spoke of there being only “a year or two to win”.

He is right, the age profile is such that Limerick’s time needs to be soon for this particular panel.

O’Mahony, Condon, McCarthy, Hickey and James Ryan all played in the All-Ireland minor final of 2007.

Indeed just four (Downes, Mulcahy, Hannon and Dowling) were on the Munster U-21 winning side of 2011.

That was three years ago and no one knew has burst onto the scene since, yet.

But what it means is that the mix available to TJ Ryan and selectors Paul Beary, Mark Lyons and Davy Clarke is close to ideal, albeit the core panel of match-day players is still no more than 20.

TARGET

What will be seen as progress for Limerick in 2014?

The players themselves want to set the bar high and therefore getting back to the same stage as last season must be the number one target.

The easiest route to be put Munster SHC titles back-to-back for the first time since the early 80’s.

If Limerick were to suffer defeat in the July 13 provincial they would still find themselves in an All-Ireland quarter-final, where victory would be a-must.

Speaking last Sunday evening Kevin Downes pinpointed that performance what they strive for and results follow.

But they have also shown that they are now experienced enough to eke out results when not firing on all cylinders.

PERFORMANCE

There is no doubt that there is room for improvement after Semple Stadium.

But how great is it that Limerick were able to end the Thurles hoodoo and do it when some were below par.

It’s a sign of the collective growth of the team over individual displays.

Especially in attack Limerick can improve over the next five weeks.

The confidence gained from the week will raise standards in training, while any pressure that was on their shoulders should also be relatively lighter.

SELECTION

TJ Ryan and Co got the team spot on last weekend and it’s hard to see that there will be any changes for the Munster final.

Were tactics to change both Thomas Ryan and David Breen could force their way into the reckoning.

Micheal Ryan got his debut in Thurles and will be among those who will try to sparkle in the round of club hurling championship fixtures on the weekend of June 13-15.

For now it will be collective fingers crossed that all emerge from those games unscathed before the countdown begins in earnest.

The excitment might not reach the same level as last year but Limerick are still exactly where they want to be.