THE Limerick hurlers are on high-alert ahead of Sunday’s round two encounter in Antrim.
After last weekend’s draw with Waterford, TJ Ryan’s Limerick must now win all four remaining games if they are to end a five year stay outside of the top flight in the Allianz Hurling League.
There was a timely reminder of the task ahead of Limerick this Sunday when Antrim went close to shocking Wexford in Wexford Park, with the home side winning out by just a single score.
On Sunday Antrim will be out to avenge last season’s league tie when Limerick put the visitors to the Gaelic Grounds to a the sword with a 3-26 to 0-12 victory.
The bookies make Limerick the hottest of 1/7 favourites to beat Antrim, who are priced at 5/1. But this time round its the Saffrons that will hope to utilise home advantage and they certainly haven’t made life easy for Limerick with the fixture to take place in the north Antrim venue of Ballycastle.
Cork travelled to the venue last season and were lucky to return south with a 0-18 to 1-12 victory.
In preparation for the tie, Limerick will make the 450km journey to Antrim on Saturday afternoon.
Despite victories for Wexford and Offaly, after the opening round of Division 1B Limerick remain the favourites to secure promotion.
However, unavailability of players will hinder chances.
Definitely ruled out of the trip to Ulster is Kilmallock quartet Gavin O’Mahony, Paudie O’Brien, Graeme Mulcahy and Barry Hennessy.
O’Mahony was the star performer in the forward line against Waterford with a return of five points from play.
However, he was only released to play in that tie as club manager Ger O’Loughlin felt he needed match practise after missing Kilmallock’s semi-final win over Portaferry due to suspension. He now joins his club colleagues in preparing for their March 17 All Ireland final against Kilkenny’s Ballyhale. This week that Croke Park was confirmed for a 2.00 start.
Also absent for Limerick in Antrim will be injured Na Piarsaigh duo David Breen and Kevin Downes, along with Seanie Tobin, who is back in training after his hip operation.
Breen was named to start against Waterford but was ruled out after sustaining an injury set-back in training on the Thursday prior to the game.
That leaves Limerick sweating on the fitness of Declan Hannon and Shane Dowling.
The pair were among the eight regulars that missed the draw with Waterford.
Dowling (illness) and Hannon (injured) missed the draw with Waterford, in which Limerick lined out with a very experimental forward unit.
“We would be hoping that Shane Dowling will be back and I think maybe Declan Hannon as well,” said Limerick manager TJ Ryan.
Along with the return of Dowling and Hannon, James Ryan could also return to the starting team for Sunday’s Antrim game. He carried a slight injury into the Waterford tie but had to be sprung from the bench at half time when Limerick trailed 0-14 to 1-7.
“We have to go all the way to Ballycastle, which will be a tough game - so we have to prepare for that now,” said TJ Ryan.
“I think there are one of two more twists and turns in this league. They are all very competitive games,” he stressed.
Limerick’s team won’t be named until closer to the weekend with a number of players to line out with their respective colleges in the Fitzgibbon Cup this week.
However, up to three changes could be expected in the Limerick line-up with Dowling, Hannon, Ryan and Dan Morrissey all in line for starting berths with Limerick conscious that experience and physicality will be key in Ballycastle.
“Everything is in our own hands - we can still control our own destiny,” said TJ Ryan.
“I would like to have won it but look we didn’t lose it - everything is still in our own hands and its a bit like last year,” said the manager.
After the Antrim game, next up the March 8 trip to Wexford.