Limerick had a poor league, writes Martin Kiely in this week’s column. But they can still be ready for the championship.
Six weeks from next Sunday Limerick will run out in Thurles against near and great rivals Clare in the opening round of the Munster hurling championship.
Limerick supporters are less than enthusiastic after the recent league performances but I think it’s time for some cool heads and careful planning by all concerned in the Limerick hurling set up. History tells us that Limerick has endured bad days in the National League before but come championship time they always had a real bite in their play and I don’t expect that to change when they meet Clare on May 24. The management and players must now go into lock down mode, they know only too well that they have done themselves no justice in the league and the only way they can rid themselves of that feeling is to have a right go at the Munster championship.
The only real statement Limerick need to make is in Thurles, they don’t need to be giving interviews and comment about how the league went and how they are now ready for Clare. The hurt of the past few weeks can be the driving force behind the team and I expect they will deliver in Thurles.
I wrote a few weeks ago that the sooner Limerick get out of the league the better. By that I meant that I could see they were just not in the zone. They wanted to make it happen but despite effort it was laboured and slow. The hangover from the Kilkenny game in Croke Park was still sitting with them but they now know that fixating on the past has a way of hijacking the future. Many Limerick teams in the past have suffered from the same fate and have paid a heavy price.
This current team has a lot of talented players, they have the ability to be real contenders and the task facing the management is to get the best from them. Central to that is developing the key strengths of the team and having the right players in key positions.
It was rather ironic that both teams had their fair share of difficulties during the league. Clare had issues to deal with off the field while Limerick, hot favourites to leave Division 1B, never once looked like the team that ran All Ireland champions so close in the semi final. Both teams will have to put the league behind them now and I can only image the heat in training over the next few weeks.
There will be a real sense of purpose as both teams prepare for what could be their most crucial match of the year. Clare won the All Ireland in 2013 and trying to repeat it last year was always going to be difficult for them. Davy Fitzgerald well knows the talented group he has at his disposal and he will leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach the promised land once more. He will apply huge pressure on himself to have them in top gear for Limerick. He will also know that Limerick is the one team that could cool his soup.
I hear Limerick are to have a trial game but to be honest I am not so sure that will offer much now. That should have happened long before now because in reality any players that might make it through will be coming from a fitness base that would see them struggle come championship time.
Limerick has to make the best of what they have now, time is not on their side, they need to focus on the bunch they have. Management will be mindful of the pressure coming from supporters and the low ebb around the county but it would be a major risk now to tamper too much with the team. They need to quickly sort the defence and decide who their six backs will be, midfield sorts itself while the forwards also need some attention. They will have to make a couple of hard calls but they need to settle quickly on what the general shape of their team will be and then go about planning to beat Clare.
As it stands Clare finished the league well despite losing to Kilkenny by a point which sees them play in Division 1B next year. They had some very competitive games and playing at a higher level has to stand to teams as the year progresses. The entire Limerick set up needs to galvanise as they focus on this Clare game.
I always feel a team that has a cause will be very difficult to beat. Limerick has a few reasons but most of all to themselves, this is a good group of players that know only too well they have more to offer and I for one expect to see that in Thurles in a few short weeks.