It’s the time of year when most inter county managers take a breath. The vast majority of them will not have made it to Croke Park. Many will recharge the batteries as they look forward to another year.
New Limerick manager John Kiely will not have such a luxury. He will know only too well the challenge facing him. Along with his management team he now has an opportunity to lay a new foundation for Limerick, to create new standards and a culture that will see better days for Limerick hurling.
Picking his panel of players will be his first priority but the time has come to bring some freshness to the Limerick hurling panel. Some club players that are not part of the inner sanctum need to be looked at. A few trials might help. It would certainly send a message of change and that needs to be heard loud and clear.
The Limerick panel has been stale for some years and that has not helped the progress of players trying to make the breakthrough. Hard calls were not made and Limerick hurling has suffered as a result.
It takes a lot to blend a winning culture and sadly Limerick have been found wanting in that regard now for some time. John Kiely will be rewarded if he sets out his stall early. If he fails to send a message in the next couple of months then he will find it very hard to make progress with Limerick. Any manager that has left the cull for his second year in charge rarely makes progress.
Limerick has a number of young players coming through but until they are really tested at the higher level we won’t know what they are capable of. Winning U-21 titles are no gauge to what lads will do at senior level and we in Limerick should know that more than most.
The challenge is of course to find the best players but we also need lads that are happy and capable of doing a job for you. Work rate and great honesty are just two of the qualities needed at the highest level and if Limerick can deliver in that regard then they have the ability to match a lot of teams.
Winning the hearts and minds of the players is vital to building a winning team. I think John Kiely can do that. He must lead those players to a place they have not been before. They might think they have made that journey before but from where I stand I don’t think so. They have to become hard to beat and that will not be done if any lads have a soft centre.
The manager will need to know what type of game plan he wants Limerick to play and those charged with making that happen must carry it out. Limerick are best suited to a traditional game. To play that game you need lads to win their own ball and that should be a deciding factor in picking the panel.
For years now it has been harder to get off the Limerick team than get on it. Many fine players have been lost and others just could not be bothered hanging around. The focus has changed now for so many players. Wearing the county jersey was once the main desire but so many have found to their cost that it will not serve them in the future.
Education and career prospects have become very important and any manager that takes his eye off the ball will find these players won’t hang around. It appears to me that Limerick are always looking to find the complete player. When was the last time we took in a few lads and developed them? Players can be moulded in the right environment and John Kiely must create that. He doesn’t have to do all the work himself but he must create the conditions whereby every player can improve.
Plotting the vision for Limerick hurling for the next couple of years will be important and how Limerick plan to climb the mountain should be part of his opening talk with the players. For too long side shows have been part of Limerick hurling and that needs to stop.
We had managers and players that would turn up at the hanging of a gate. They can do all of that when the titles are won. If John Kiely can make it just about hurling then he has a great chance of going places with Limerick. Right now Limerick are well off the top four of five teams so there is lots to be done.
To make progress it will take a huge effort and if any player steps outside the terms and conditions then show him the door. This is a serious business and it will take a focus they have not seen before to make progress.
Lots of things will fall into place if honesty is the corner stone of John Kiely’s plan. Of course he is only one part of the jigsaw. Paul Kinnerk, Joe O’Connor and others will also need to deliver. Unity of purpose is the bedrock of success and when a Limerick team takes the field with that approach they will be very difficult to beat.
Finding the formula to bring Limerick to the promised land won’t be easy, many have tried, some came close and others failed miserably. The bar needs to be set high for any player joining the Limerick panel. He must not be in any doubt of the journey he must travel for Limerick to succeed.
John Kiely has lived in the shadow of the Galtee Mountains all his life. They stand just over 3,000 feet in height. He is grounded by the nature around him and the parish he comes from. He will know how big a task he is facing, a task that will consume his life until he leaves the post.
He now has a chance and a clear canvass to work from. He must surround himself with players that will go to the trenches. The game now has no hiding places and unless players are prepared to follow his command they have no chance of surviving the battle.