Martin Kiely Column - Hurling year really only starts now

Martin Kiely's column can be read first thing every Thursday morning in the print edition of the weekend Limerick Leader
The Limerick hurlers play Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday and Martin Kiely reckons that this weekend signals the beginning of the serious hurling.

The Limerick hurlers play Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday and Martin Kiely reckons that this weekend signals the beginning of the serious hurling.

Despite the fact that two games have been played and that Limerick has a one hundred percent success rate you still get the sense that it’s only this weekend the real hurling begins.

Limerick had a shaky start against Antrim and last weekend they had the better of Carlow at the Gaelic Grounds but, for a long time now, the focus of many has been the game this Saturday against Dublin at Croke Park.

I think it’s fair to say that most hurling people in the county have question marks about the team and their preparations and most supporters I meet feel that little if any progress is being made.

Whether or not that is the case the team has a huge opportunity to lay down a marker for the rest of the season when they face what I expect will be a very stiff challenge from Dublin.

I have watched Dublin training a couple of times since the start of the year and I can see a different focus from last year. They will know, like Limerick, the importance of a result in this game. Limerick need to show some form and build momentum within the squad because I feel it will be very hard to gain promotion.

While Limerick did eventually overcome Antrim the general view within the team and amongst supporters was they were poor and the body language of the players suggested they were heavy legged and played without any real spirit.

That performance led to a major clearing of the air two weeks ago, the players and management sat down and by all accounts some home truths were dished out.

Many players have, for a while now, not been happy with the training of the team and the person responsible had to take it on the chin. This of course was the case again last year and I had major concerns then that the same person had the abilities required to train a team at this level.

Training has picked up since then but will we be able to make up the ground lost and will it cost us greatly later in the year? We have heard the Limerick management state on a few occasions that it’s all about “June” but June will reap little reward unless serious work is done where players are showing intensity, determination and a willingness to work exceptionally hard.

It would seem that the management have made their mind up and are happy to go with Donal O’Grady at centre back and that they are going to persist with Seamus Hickey at centre forward.

Donal O’ Grady’s injury against Carlow will force a rethink and Wayne McNamara looks set to fill the role now. Let’s hope Donal O’Grady returns well from injury.

For me the jury is still very much out on these players in these positions and until I see some level of consistency from players in key positions then the doubts will still linger over the long term progress the team can make.

Supporters want to see progress being made and the first part of that is that Limerick gain promotion to the top tier of hurling for 2014. The game this Saturday against Dublin will be very interesting and it will give us a fair idea of where Limerick currently stands.

The Limerick panel hasn’t changed too much since last year but the supporters on the ground are now calling for progress.

Limerick have had two years of building under Donal O’Grady and now John Allen and many of those players are either good enough to make the next step or not at this stage.

The time for the lolly pop is over - it’s now time to show leadership and passion on the field.

Every year is defined by results in the championship and in Limerick’s case the harvest has reaped very little for such a long time. In this regard it’s very important that small but very important steps are made and by doing so the quality of play and our players is developing. Promotion is so important for Limerick, to do that they will have to deal with Dublin, Offaly and Wexford who pose the biggest challenge in their division.

Dublin knows only too well that they were dismal last year having made real progress in 2011. Limerick not only has to win games but also put vital corner stones in place for the championship.

That has not been done over the last couple of years and unless it is then we will be facing yet another year with a poor harvest.

One man in the County Board has, for the last couple of months, made no secret of the fact that he has little time for the current senior hurling management.

Unless they are living in another planet the management will know only too well who that is.

They will be mindful that failure to win promotion will bring huge pressure on them. One of the most upsetting aspects I am seeing at the moment is that great supporters are not travelling to support the team.

In their view no progress has been made and key positions are still not filled. It’s vital now that Limerick get a result against Dublin, which will help greatly to build some confidence. Morale, as far as the Limerick senior hurling team are concerned, is at a low ebb at the moment.

I have, in the past, expressed my honest views about where Limerick hurling now stands, those in power, who are so often blindfolded, say it’s negative but those with pride, passion and honesty for Limerick hurling know the truth.

The meeting between management and players saw some honesty expressed and let’s hope that can be a foundation for the weeks ahead otherwise they might feel some heat.