In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks ahead to Limerick’s massive All Ireland Qualifier clash against Dublin.
Limerick stumbled over underdogs Westmeath last Sunday and they will now face Dublin in what most people would see as a crunch game this weekend.
It was far from an emphatic display and it has raised further questions about the team. Confidence is waning about how the team are playing and what, if any, progress has been made. Unless they show significant improvement this Saturday they are looking at an early exit from the hurling championship.
The frame of mind from Limerick last Sunday was not good and the body language on the pitch and on the subs bench was not what most people expected. Westmeath made Limerick work very hard and their contribution should not in any way be undermined. They held Limerick scoreless for 29 minutes in total and that should not be part of the script for a team hoping to be in Croke Park in September. Some of Limerick’s hurling was shocking and while changes were made for this game I am not so sure they worked. To me Limerick are hurling as individuals and they are not working to any set plan. This game against Dublin could be a defining encounter and supporters will be demanding improvement from players and management.
I can understand that it might be difficult for players and management to get themselves up for last Sunday’s game but the Limerick performance was lacking in many respects. This game on Saturday in Thurles will focus the mind of all concerned because defeat will see them out of the championship. The last time they played Dublin in Croke Park Limerick were blown away. It was a shocking display and that alone should be enough to motivate the team for this contest.
It has to be worrying that the team now looks unsettled, particularly in defence and teams are aware of Limerick’s weaknesses in this vital area of the pitch.
Dublin had a good league run and they looked promising but they were badly exposed by Galway in the Leinster championship. That result has caused them to have a major rethink, much like Limerick after the Tipperary result. I have seen Dublin in the league and also a couple of their championship games. In Tullamore they were found wanting in many departments but most of all it was the way they set up and that allowed Galway control the game from the opening minutes. Dublin have many good players and with Liam Rushe reverting back to centre back it looks like the spine of the team is much better. They will see this game with Limerick as a major opportunity to restore their championship ambitions but Thurles has not been a happy hunting ground for them.
They beat Limerick when Donal O’Grady was in his first year but overall they don’t travel well. Manager Ger Cunningham is a very good coach but management is very different. Some people find the transition difficult but the man that once had the Limerick job in his hand will have his team well primed for this massive encounter with Limerick.
The Limerick supporters will wait with interest to see what starting 15 TJ Ryan and his backroom team will line out on Saturday. Some big names were dropped last week and will be very interesting to see if some of them get back. The shape of the team is not settled and I wonder will that have an effect on the confidence of those that were dropped but also on those that might take their places.
Limerick have some really good players but we have not seen them play well as a unit. We are getting towards the business end of the championship now and any team that has weaknesses in areas such as physical, coaching or organisation will be punished.
I think both Limerick and Dublin are carrying scars from their respective losses to Tipperary and Galway. They will both hope of course that those wins over Westmeath and Laois will have ignited some self belief and confidence. We will only know the answer to that when some questions are asked of either in the thick of the championship dust. Limerick are delaying getting the ball to the forwards and unless they change that then I think they will find it very hard to make serious progress in this championship.
The Limerick defence has been a major problem for some time now and this was really exposed by Tipperary. Some effort was made to change that last Sunday but is it too late in the year for such experiments? Limerick have been very one directional in their approach and it remains to be seen if they can adapt against Dublin. This is a huge game for the team and management and they need to make a serious statement of intent against Dublin.
They have to cut loose a bit and take the game to Dublin, test them early and see how they react. The most significant thing Limerick can do this week is to get the attitude and focus right for this game.
If they can get that right then they have a chance of making the quarter-finals.
Minors can win Munster again
Thurles will be the focus of Limerick GAA this weekend as the minor hurlers will face Tipperary on Sunday.
Limerick are chasing three-in-a-row after they managed to get over Cork last week. For long stages Cork were by far the better team and had they taken the many chances they had, they would have won this game in a canter.
Cork are past masters in stealing games but on this occasion it was Limerick who pulled the rug from them. One of the major factors in Limerick winning this game was the experience many of the players has gained over the past two years but also work rate. Of course Peter Casey played a telling role but also Tom Grimes who hurled with great energy from start to finish. Players like Tom Hayes, Conor McSweeney, Jack O’Grady and Conor Brynes were also very impressive. Kyle Hayes won some vital ball in the first half while Daragh Carroll and Brian Ryan got better as the game progressed.
I have seen Kilkenny and Dublin play and I don’t think Kilkenny are as good as last year. The same can be said for Limerick but right now I think they will win the All Ireland title. The experience of Croke Park over the last two years is standing to them, they have seven of last year’s team and 14 of the panel so that has to be a major plus.
I have seen Tipperary play and while I would expect them to improve for a final I still think Limerick are a good bit ahead of them. Sometimes minors find it hard to put games back to back but on this occasion I feel Limerick can take another mighty step forward and win three titles in a row.