A SEVENTH Munster U-21 hurling title is the quest for Limerick this Thursday.
Defending their home fortress and their crown are four-in-a-row chasing Clare.
Just like Limerick’s maiden U-21 title in 1986 (the only previous Shannonside decider), Cusack Park in Ennis is Thursday’s venue.
Back in ‘86 the final went to an Ennis replay after a draw in the Gaelic Grounds, but this time round extra-time will be played if necessary.
While Limerick and Clare have won a combined eight tiles since the turn of the millennium, prior to that they had lost a total of 21 finals.
This Thursday, Limerick manager John Kiely is hoping a “pedigree of winning” will stand his charges in good stead.
“You can see it in them, be it in training or a challenge game - there is a pedigree of winning and they don’t like losing. Even in challenge games they didn’t like losing and would bounce back in the next game,” outlined Kiely, who was a selector with John Allen when Limerick won the 2013 Munster SHC.
He added: “It a good mentality”.
But the Limerick manager has warned that minor success is no indicator to U-21 or senior success.
“My total focus and the rest of the management team has always been to get the best team available. I don’t look back at what anyone did at minor level or anything else because that might be two or three years ago. None of this management had anything to do with those campaigns,” said Kiely of the back-to-back winning minor sides of 2013 and ‘14.
“Obviously they have learned diligently in terms of preparation in terms of gym and diet, etc, and I have to say they are top class to deal with,” said Kiely of his players, many of who have tasted national and provincial success with UL, Ardscoil Ris and their respective clubs over the past two years, as well as the minor titles.
The bookies make Clare the 10/11 favourites to extend their U-21 winning run to 15 games.
“We have to bring our best to this game,” accepts the Limerick manager.
“We have to prepare for a big occasion but also focus on our own details. You can’t let them walk into the stadium and not prepare them for a big fixture like a final where there is a lot at stake,” said Kiely.
“They (Clare) want to make their mark on history and I’ve no doubt they are saying that to themselves. It will be very difficult to play them at home but that can also bring it’s own pressures,” outlined the Limerick manager.
“We had the best tackle count in our win over Tipperary and in their game with Waterford, Clare had the highest tackle count. There definitely is a strong collation between hooks, blocks and hard work and the winning team,” outlined Kiely, referencing the semi finals.
“We are a young team and when you are young you have to work even harder,” he stressed.
While Clare entered this championship as three-in-a-row winners, Limerick were without a win since 2011.
Getting back to winning ways was a huge confidence boost.
“The lads were anxious to break that duck and that’s a fierce positive to have that out of the way. Some of them are there for the last two years and a lot from last year so they didn’t want to be another team to go out in the first round,” said the manager.
“There is no doubt in my mind that they have answered a big question for themselves,” he said of the semi final win over Tipperary.
That win came 10-days ago.
“It is quite a tight turn around and we didn’t even take 24-hours. It was straight up the following morning and the focus was on the final. We can look back at it later in the year - I looked back on it for match analysis but not for pleasure. We would be very happy with the first 20-minutes but there were a lot of nerves in the game for both teams - Tipperary were coming off the back of the Munster senior final and maybe their preparations were interrupted while Limerick were without a win in this grade for the last three or four years.”
Limerick travelled to Ennis last week to familiarise themselves with the surrounds and have played internal trial games in the past week “to keep up to match speed and to ensure we keep everything competitive”.
Clare have won two of their last three finals at home.
“They have a lot of experience in their panel and we have to ask big question marks of them,” said Kiely.
LIMERICK: David McCarthy (Glenroe); Mark O’Callaghan (Knockaderry), Richie English (Doon), Michael Casey (Na Piarsaigh); Diarmaid Byrnes (Patrickswell), Barry O’Connell (Kildimo-Pallaskenry), Gearoid Hegarty (St Patricks), Darragh O’Donovan (Doon), Pat Ryan (Doon); Ronan Lynch (Na Piarsaigh), Robbie Hanley (Kilmallock), David Dempsey (Na Piarsaigh); Colin Ryan (Pallasgreen), Tom Morrissey (Ahane), Cian Lynch (Patrickswell). Subs: Eoghan McNamara (Doon), Sean Finn (Bruff), Sean Flanagan (Feohanagh-Castlemahon), Andrew La Touche Cosgrave (Monaleen), David Condron (Granagh-Ballingarry), Liam O’Sullivan (Knockaderry) Jack Kelliher (Patrickswell), Jody Hannon (Adare), Aaron Gillane (Patrickswell).
CLARE: Keith Hogan (Clooney-Quin); Eoin Quirke (Whitegate), David Fitzgerald (Inagh-Kilnamona), Shane O’Brien (Clonlara); Aidan McGuane (Kilmaley), Conor Cleary (St Josephs Miltown Malbay), Ben O’Gorman (Wolfe Tones; David Conroy (St Josephs Doora-Barefield), Kevin Hehir (Inagh-Kilnamona); Bobby Duggan (Clarecastle), Shane Gleeson (Cratloe), Ian Galvin (Clonlara); Shane O’Donnell (Eire Og), Stephen Ward (Clarecastle), Ryan Taylor (Clooney-Quin).