THE hurling year began for Limerick last Sunday at the Fraher Field in Dungarvan. Early January and over thirteen hundred turn up for the opening game in the Co op Superstores Munster Hurling League.
Waterford lined out with a development squad. Only one of them played senior championship hurling last year. Infact eight of the team won U21 All Ireland medals last year.
Limerick, on the other hand, fielded eleven players that played senior hurling at various stages in 2016. You wouldn’t have thought that in the opening twenty minutes as Waterford played much the better hurling.
Many Limerick players stood back and admired what was going on, whereas the young guns from Waterford attacked with every opportunity. It was clear during those early stages that Limerick didn’t really have any shape.
The half back was dragged out and this allowed space for the inside Waterford players. DJ Foran scored a really good goal and caused lots of problems for Richie McCarthy. Games such as this one will provide players with a chance to lay down a marker but some of them might just run out of time.
The management team will have a plan in place and games like last Sunday will provide evidence of who they want on the bus going forward.
Trying to read anything into games at this time of the year would be a science of its own and results now will count for nothing come July and August.
I said when John Kiely was appointed that if he waited until year two it would make his term very difficult. I think he will give everyone a chance to impress, but very soon he and his back room team will have to make calls that will serve them and Limerick hurling well for the next few years.
Limerick has lost a lot of ground and trying to match others will not be easy. This is nothing new in Limerick.
History will show that when we had the players good enough to advance we somehow just never got it right. The challenge is to pick a squad of players that will will become hard to beat.
That will take time but it will only happen if the right bricks are in place and if players travel a road not seen before in Limerick.
I think most people in the county know the gaps that need to be filled in the Limerick senior hurling team. Getting the centre line right will be crucial to that.
Limerick need to find a centre back. Seamus Hickey was there last Sunday but I don’t think he has the craft for this position going forward.
He left the centre open and allowed his man too much space. Many players have been tried over the past few years and it’s important that Limerick sort this position.
I feel Nickie Quaid should be looked at. He plays this position well for his club and with him in the centre a good half backline could be built.
Diarmuid Brynes operates best on the wing and the job then is to find another to fill the most crucial line in the field.
Declan Hannon played half back last Sunday and it would appear the management will give him some time in this position. He has the hurling, but it’s too early to make a call on him securing the final spot.
Waterford fell away just before half-time and then Limerick hit over some fine points. It must be noted that many of the Waterford players had club matches and training before this game and one wouldn’t want to read too much into the result.
Alan Dempsey had a good day at centre forward and scored a few fine points, but is his future as a forward? John Fitzgibbon landed some good scores from frees and his ability in this area will provide options.
Paul Browne is out injured and all going to plan he would be expected to hold down one of the centre field positions. Fitzgibbon and others will be in the frame but who ever it is he must have a cutting edge and be prepared to work hard.
Look at any winning team over the years and the one thing they have in common is that they have a really strong half forward line, hardworking midfielders and ball winning half forwards.
If Limerick can manage to get the right players in these positions then they will be on the road to competing with the best. I don’t expect this to happen all at once but we must get the shape right in 2017. Making sure we get it right for the future might require telling some lads that have given good service the trip is over.
Waterford have come a long way and they have a massive player base now. They will use the league to find the couple of players to complete their outfit.
Last Sunday they had eleven of their 2013 minor team on show. That is a major achievement in its self.
I said before that Limerick has been slow to bring players forward. Some lads get on the senior panel and they decide when it comes to an end. That sort of attitude has not helped Limerick hurling and its continuation will not see it advance.
The platform is in place now to set a foundation for the long term good of Limerick hurling. Huge resources are in place to support the team but that alone will not guarantee success. It will take a massive effort from all sides to bridge the gap.
John Kiely mentioned “honesty” a few times when I interviewed him after the game last Sunday. I have used it a few times myself when talking about Limerick hurling. The Galbally man is of course on the ball. Without honesty nothing is possible. Grounded players that do their talking on the field will always be hard to beat.
If Limerick put the sideshows aside and play with a cutting edge then they will make life difficult for many teams.
This Sunday Cork will be in the Gaelic Grounds and this will be an interesting game. Cork are trying lots of young players and like Limerick they want to be facing in the direction of the winners enclosure.
The next few weeks are all about getting Limerick ready for the open league game with Wexford. Last Sunday over three thousand turned up for Davy Fitzgerald’s first game. It all points to a crowd of more than ten thousand for that game against Limerick in Wexford Park. That game will offer the first real clues of the season.