“WE literally poured ourselves out,” gasped Seamus Hickey in his emotional post-match interview after Limerick’s 2014 All Ireland SHC semi final defeat to Kilkenny.
Man of the Match in the two point defeat in a rain-soaked Croke Park, Hickey’s words perfectly encapsulated the display of TJ Ryan’s men as Limerick went toe-to-toe with Brian Cody’s Cats.
“We were fighting tooth and nail,” surmised the Murroe-Boher defender.
Quite simply, nothing less than ‘fighting tooth and nail’ will suffice for Limerick this Saturday in Nowlan Park in round one of the All Ireland SHC Qualifiers – only available to watch on Sky Sports 3. Throw-in 7.00.
The sides have never met previously in the All Ireland Qualifiers, although there have been 11 previous championship meetings – Kilkenny winning seven and Limerick four. Limerick’s last win was the All Ireland final of 1973.
Unless lessons, collectively and individually, are learned from the Munster SHC loss to Clare Limerick’s 2017 championship record will match the disappointing years of 2010 and 2008 – played two and lost two.
There is no denying that the 3-17 to 2-16 June 4 loss in Thurles was below what John Kiely’s 31-man panel are capable of.
John Kiely, Paul Kinnerk, Jimmy Quilty, Brian Geary, Joe O’Connor and Alan Cunningham have done much post-match analysis in the past four weeks and indeed much more this week when Kilkenny were revealed as the opposition awaiting Limerick via the backdoor.
The bookies immediately reacted to the draw, by making Kilkenny the hot 1/3 favourites to advance - Limerick were listed at 11/4.
Saturday will be Limerick's 24th All Ireland SHC Qualifier - the record stands at 14 wins and nine defeats. Kilkenny have previously played only four qualifiers - with a 100% record.
Saturday will be the first Limerick v Kilkenny game in Nowlan Park since a 2009 league tie – current panelists Tom Condon, Seamus Hickey, Gavin O’Mahony, Paul Browne and Graeme Mulcahy played in that 0-15 to 0-14 defeat.
The winners of this weekend’s four round one games will play each other in round two on the weekend of July 8/9 – at neutral venues. Therefore Limerick need two victories to book a July 23 quarter final, which would be against a Munster or Leinster beaten finalist and take place in Cork’s Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
Just like Limerick, Kilkenny will be aiming to kick-start their championship after a Leinster SHC defeat to Wexford. For all the debate surrounding that loss to Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford, Kilkenny are still laden with household names – TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Conor Fogarty, Cillian Buckley and Colin Fennelly.
But there is no denying, the ‘fear factor’ has departed Brian Cody’s team. Nonetheless all await their fight-back after league and championship defeats to Wexford.
While a lack of Nowlan Park experience could be weighed against Limerick, John Kiey’s men can travel east in the knowledge that all pressure is on Kilkenny.
Limerick must heighten that pressure and unease with a solid start to ensure the home support are unsettled rather than a vocal asset.
It’s not often during the Brian Cody era that Kilkenny confidence has been fragile and Limerick must test this in the early minutes. For all the foreboding of the black and amber demise they were only one score off Wexford and most of their star men were below par.
Just as Kilkenny have room for improvement, so too have Limerick.
John Kiely and Co are in year one of a three year contract and clearly are moulding a new-look young team. But Nowlan Park has the potential to be a watershed for this panel. Limerick need to throw off the shackles and ensure there is nothing to regret. The display of the Limerick U-21s in their 11-point win over Tipperary demonstrated the benefit of a more direct approach with fast intelligent deliveries into attack.
As well as changes in personnel and tactics, Limerick must also ensure that all fight ‘tooth and nail’ for breaking ball in the middle third.
Kilkenny traditionally bring the best out in Limerick – inconsistency has marred 2017 for Limerick to-date, but with something close to a full 70-minutes performance, the impossible could just become possible.