The last day of January saw the start of the new GAA season and Limerick footballers had home advantage against Tipperary in Kilmallock.
It was a testing day for football, sticky sod and powerful winds mixed with drizzle presented a cocktail that made good football difficult. The Limerick senior football team is much changed from what most supporters would have known over the years.
Young fresh faces are starting out on the inter county road. Some showed they might have the capacity to survive the many challenges that lie ahead while others will find it a step too far. I have, many times in the past, praised the Limerick senior football team.
They were an honest bunch of lads who just got on with the job. They set a standard within the group that saw them challenge some of the best teams in the country. It was ironic that the man who played a key role in the development of many Limerick players in the past would be on the line against them last Sunday. Liam Kearns is the new Tipperary manager and while missing a number of players last Sunday it is pretty clear he has a very good base of players to call on.
Tipperary were well in control in the opening half last Sunday but it might worry Kearns how they fell away in the second half. Limerick played poorly in the first half. They were in trouble at midfield while in defence they found it difficult to cope with the Tipperary forwards. Given the amount of possession Tipperary had they should have been much further ahead at half time. Limerick did a lot of hand passing and running off the ball but on too many occasions it yielded nothing.
Ian Ryan kicked four of the five points in the first half from frees and in reality they were surviving on scraps. I was impressed with Alan Maloney at midfield for Tipperary while Conor Sweeney caused a few problems for Johnny McCarthy at full back.
As mentioned, Limerick have lost some key men over the past couple of years and trying to replace them will not be easy. There were times in the opening half that Limerick didn’t seem to know what to do. The game plan if any was not working and the players were trying to quench fires all over the place.
I was impressed with Stephen Cahill from Mountcollins. He was black-carded after 14 minutes but from what I saw I do think this lad has the capacity to be a really good half back. Three changes were made to the starting line out and that allowed another young player an opportunity at this level.
Brian Fanning from Pallasgreen has lots to learn and is only in his opening season but with more miles under the belt this young man will come through. I could see he found the game demanding but he showed steely qualities and finished well.
Two men that showed great leadership were Paudie Browne and Seanie Buckley. Going into the dressing room at the break the heads of the players were down but to their credit they dished up a powerful display in the second half.
The small attendance during the break might not have seen a way back for Limerick because from a football point of view it was Tipperary that looked in a far more comfortable place. Whatever was said at half time had the desired effect and it was Limerick who produced the goods in the second half.
Unlike in the first half Limerick were more direct and used the ball much better. The long ball got results and the Tipperary full back line were vulnerable when taken on. The big difference now was that Limerick were standing up to Tipperary.
The work rate was much better and they were playing with a bit more flair. It took ten minutes for the opening point from a free in the second half but three in all from Ian Ryan between the 9th and 18th minutes suggested hope for Limerick. Seanie Buckley landed a massive point to leave just one between them but when livewire Peter Nash scored a cracking goal it saw Limerick go two points clear.
At this stage Tipperary were struggling to contain a rejuvenated Limerick. The energy levels in Limerick’s play saw them take on Tipperary down the wings and with three minutes of normal time remaining they were three points to the good. Tipperary had the composure to challenge once more and when Josh Keane scored a goal it looked like Limerick had lost their chance. The Premier men would add another point to take the lead a minute into injury time.
It looked like Limerick had run out of time but to their immense credit they camped on the scoring zone and after much effort they were rewarded with a free. Ian Ryan scored a crucial point that saw them share valuable league points.
Trying to survive in Division 3 will pose problems for Limerick as Kildare and Westmeath look in really good form and will cause problems for teams like Limerick, Clare and Longford. Other teams might not have afforded the chances that Tipperary gifted last Sunday and Limerick will need to show improvement if they are to hold rank in Division 3.
It promises to be an interesting league for Limerick and the away game to Longford will be very important. If Limerick were to fall to Division 4 it would set the team back but moreover if new controversial proposals are adopted at congress it might mean them playing in a B championship.