IT'S been an interesting few days for the Limerick senior hurling team.
If one was to take note of the comments coming out of the Gaelic Grounds after the Cork game many had already written the year off.
It was a bad day. A day that left doubt on all sides. I think both the players and management will have learned a great deal from that game. Such lessons might stand to them in the year ahead.
Limerick lost a lot of ground over the past couple of years and it’s going to take one hell of an effort to regain that ground. Results at this time of year won't make or break you but they can give a major clue if the team are going in the right direction.
In time that heavy defeat by Cork might have been a blessing. It may have required everyone to have a good look at themselves. It also left some players know that there is no place to hide at senior level.
Playing Clare in Sixmilebridge last week provided the ideal landscape for a Limerick response. Long before you got to the pitch you could almost smell the atmosphere. The floodlights cast a shadow over the East Clare town.
It was a grand evening for hurling, little or no wind but still a stiffness in the air.
There was a buzz once you came through the gates. The stand was full and all around the ground you got the sense that both players, management and supporters were up for this game.
Both of these teams will come face to face in the championship and that will be an entirely different battle. Both counties are now under new management. Many in the Limerick set up had dined with the Clare lads over the past few years.
Watching the Limerick management you could see they needed a response in this game. A host of changes again but overall the balance was much better. Clare were very impressive in the opening half. I was impressed by them and I could see a renewed hunger in them . They looked fresh and many of their players seemed physically to be in a better place.
They asked lots of questions of Limerick, some players were under pressure as Clare moved the ball to good effect.
Unlike previous games their was a bite to this contest. It was no where near championship levels but still it was way ahead of what we have seen so far.
As John Kiely put it: “They showed a bit of bottle.” They needed to because at times in the opening stages Clare made them look very ordinary. John Conlon looks in great shape. He hit four great points and had the better of Gavin O’ Mahony.
The most telling aspect of the game for me was the the improvement of the Limerick half backline in the second half.
Declan Hannon was at centre back and didn’t go all that well in the first half. He played much better in the second half. He showed signs that he could deliver here.
He will need to be fitter and a great deal more physical but he has the hurling ability to play this position.
Diarmuid Brynes also had a much better half, he scored some fine points and will be a strong test for any forward.
Half back lines now have a telling impact on games and this is a most crucial line for Limerick.
Gearoid Hegarty had to go off injured but while on the field he played well. He offers size, power and the ability to win his own ball in the half forward line.
I am still not convinced it’s his best position but he is a very honest player. Cian Lynch was at centre forward and he will keep his marker busy on most days. He is not alone when it comes to over playing the ball and I think both he and the inside forward line would benefit from a faster off load.
Limerick won a lot of possession but on too many occasions the player in possession opted to run with the ball. Time after time he was hunted down and the ball turned over to Clare.
This was a good result for Limerick. As a unit they needed to be reassured after what happened against Cork.
Players and management left the Cork game with doubt and a lack of confidence but the picture was very different when they emerged in Sixmilebridge and the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday.
Some players will know that despite their service the clock is ticking. Everyone is looking over their shoulders now and that will be a great reminder to the entire panel.
Getting the best fifteen on the field is one thing but the five subs that come on might be of even more importance. No one can take the jersey for granted.
For too long that has been the case in Limerick. Look at all the successful teams and the culture they generated. Limerick have lacked badly in this regard.
We have never managed to cope with winning and the challenges it brings. A rematch against Cork looks on the cards this Sunday.
That should be a very different game and I am expecting Limerick to settle a score here.