LIMERICK senior hurlers face their midterm exam at the Gaelic Grounds next Sunday.
Galway will come to town and the result of this game could be very important for both teams if Croke Park decide to increase the number of teams in Division 1A next season.
Most people expect they will increase the number of teams to eight and where teams finish in Division 1B this year could decide their fate.
By any standards this is a important game for Limerick on many fronts and we are at the stage now where we would like to see a bit of stability coming into the team.
There has been a lot of chopping and changing over the past few months and one can understand that as the management try to blend and develop new players.
They will have worked hard over the past four months and the time to express themselves has arrived. Both Limerick and Galway would have marked this game out from a long way back and for that reason we would hope to see a quality game of hurling on Sunday.
Limerick have blown hot and cold during the league, but like Galway they will arrive in the Gaelic Grounds having lost only one game.
Many of the games in Division 1B have been poor and the quality of opposition has led to high scoring games. Space and time was in plentiful supply in those games and in reality the standard is miles away from that in Division 1A.
Some of those games are ideal to blood new players but in other ways they are far removed in energy, work rate and skill. Galway like Limerick slipped up to Wexford and we can expect them to bring a very decent challenge next Sunday.
At the start of every season Galway are always viewed as having a serious chance of winning the All-Ireland, but when most expected to do so they have failed badly.
From a player point of view Galway have a lot of quality to call on, but all to often they just don’t seem to be able to bring a collective effort on match days.
They revert to type, game plan goes out the window and they struggle to deliver the undoubted quality they have.
Galway are now managed by Michael Donoghue. He has a task at a hand to try and get the best out of them.
Donoghue is very well respected in the hurling arena. He managed his club Clarinbridge to win an All Ireland club and also spent sometime with Eamon O’ Shea in Tipperary.
They had the better of Wexford and let a solid lead slip away. That result was disappointing according to Donoghue, “Look we had that game controlled and it was a costly result for us.
“We have picked it since then, but we know the challenge of playing Limerick at home next Sunday.
“I feel this will be a good game and one we will have to play really well to win.”
This game should give us an insight into where both teams are at. From Limerick's point of view the defence was rattled a few times in league games so far.
They have room for improvement, but Galway have more potency than most of the team they have played so far. Joe Canning is not long back from injury and only played his first full game against Kerry.
He will be at full forward as Galway feel he offers the team more from this position. He is just one of a number of quality forwards Galway have.
Limerick have been without some players due to injury, but most of them are back now and we might see more balance to the team. It will take a good Limerick performance to overcome Galway.
It will take a performance we have not seen so far in the National League. I have seen the majority of the games Limerick have played since the start of the year and I would think we are still a bit away from a settled team.
The formation of our defence will play a key role in how the team goes next Sunday and indeed the year ahead. Galway will target our full backline and we know they have been under a fair bit of pressure so far.
They have leaked many goals against lesser teams. The Limerick full backline will need lots of support from the half backline and also out the field.
Galway are becoming more direct under Donoghue and it will be no surprise to see fast direct ball dropping on top of Joe Canning.
Limerick have played a lot of short hurling so far, but that type of game is still waiting to find favour with the supporters.
A lot of things have to go right for it to be effective and all too often we have seen it breaking down.
More than any team I have seen play this year, Limerick are doing a huge amount of running with the ball. It hasn't always worked and most of it has come from our half backline who on too many occasions go rambling up field and then lose the ball.
If they do that next Sunday they will be punished. Galway have a strong physical team that are good going forward and Limerick will need to put a few road blocks along the way.
They will need to work really hard, they will need to move the ball fast and they must create space in attack.
How Limerick use the ball will be very important in this game and when in control of the puck out we need to make sure it finds a Limerick man.
Galway will push up on our puck outs so we can expect a lot of breaking ball around mid field. After five or more months of preparation supporters will want to see a strong Limerick performance on Sunday.
They will want to see the plan coming together. They will want a sense of things going in the right direction.
Limerick are in a league quarter final regardless of what happens on Sunday but that aside they need to make sure they win the game to put themselves in place if Croke Park make the expected changes to the league.
Right now next Sunday's contest is the biggest game of hurling Limerick might play this year. Yes, of course, the championship is very important.
For the long term good of the game in the county a win over Galway might set the foundation so badly needed for our players in the years ahead.
So far this year the crowds attending games in Limerick have been poor. The game has a 3pm start on Sunday and the team needs your voice in the stand to pass the exam and gain the points.