Limerick's Cian Lynch in action against Kilkenny last weekend
ON MY way out of Nowlan Park last Saturday evening I was amongst a nest of Limerick supporters. They were deep in discussion about the game, one of them said, “Sure wasn’t it great to be so close to Kilkenny.”
It reminded me of similar words used after the 2014 All Ireland semi final loss. We all know what happened after that. Yes Limerick did battle in this game, they worked hard but at no stage did they look like they could win it.
Kilkenny always led and the sides were level only once. This Kilkenny team are a pale shadow of what we have become accustomed to. They had chances to hurt Limerick but unlike before they have lost the edge that made them so great.
So for that reason it’s important that this current Kilkenny team is not used as a measuring tool to gauge where Limerick are at now.
To that end Limerick did produce a display that saw them test Kilkenny. They will look back and regret some of the very bad wides they had. Hitting so many wides in the opening half was always going to be costly and some of the misses before half time were shocking. The most promising aspect of this game was that some of the younger players made a fine contribution.
Overall this was a poor game of hurling. It lacked the fluidity and sharpness of championship hurling, instead what we got was a stop start type of game. The fact that it remained close to the finish kept the contest alive but other than that the quality was poor. Kilkenny did enough to survive, they wore Limerick down and bit by bit they sucked the life out of them.
The game was riddled with mistakes, poor shooting and poor first touch was common while some of the refereeing decisions of Brian Gavin left a lot to be desired. In total we had forty six scoring chances in the opening half and remarkably only eighteen of them were taken. The swirling wind did not help matters for both teams but Limerick wasted ball and wasted good chances.
One of the key differences between the teams was that the Kilkenny half back line were always on top. Conor Fogarty, Cillian Buckley and new comer Joe Lyng were very impressive.
David Dempsey, Cian Lynch and to a lesser extent Gearoid Hegarty struggled to win ball and that put huge pressure on Limerick. At the other end of the field Declan Hannon sat back and won a lot of uncontested possession but Walter Walsh would cause a lot of problems as he moved freely between both forty five meter lines. Walsh landed some good points during a period in which Limerick failed to score for thirteen minutes. Kilkenny had a lot of possession but it must have been very frustrating for Colin Fennelly who saw the ball go over his head and wayward time after time.
It’s a measure of the man that Michael Fennelly had such an impact in this game. His first game back after major knee surgery.
Fennelly controlled midfield and it was telling that Limerick replaced both of the men that started here but their replacements also made little impact.
I have said before that whatever system Limerick are playing is not working. It’s remote control stuff and when you see the coach coming into the field as much as he did then you definitely know it’s not effective.
Some players have gone through two championship games and sadly they have not delivered. That’s disappointing for them but it begs the question why?
It has been clear in many of the games they have played this year that they are well off from a physical conditioning point of view. You would think that many of the players should be at a far more advanced stage.
In the second half Limerick went through periods of not scoring from the 43rd to the 53rd minutes and from the 53rd to the 65th minute. It’s impossible to win a game when that is the case. So if you add the 13 minutes from the first half that is a total of 35 minutes without scoring. That tells more than any score board of the hold Kilkenny had on the game.
As a county we are well past moral victories and words like brave performance and so on count for nothing.
The facts don’t lie. Limerick are struggling to make real and tangible progress at senior level. Tom Ryan was sacked for “only” winning the league in 1997. That was the standard we had back then. Since then we have only won one Munster title and that is a shocking indictment when one thinks of the hurlers we produced.
I fully understand and accept that Limerick are under new management and I have supported them since they came into the job but sadly the team has failed to make any real progress this year. They failed in all of the major games. In the league losing to Wexford first day out and twice to Galway. Losing to Clare and now Kilkenny in the championship. We all want this management and the team to make progress but on the evidence of this year they will have to change something to restore the fortunes of Limerick at senior level.
We have slipped well down the pecking order and results now and in recent years confirm that to be the case. Blaming Division 1B for our demise would be wrong because when you look at it, teams such as Clare, Waterford and Galway have won the league outright from here so excuses don’t wash.
The road ahead will not be easy and it’s not as if other teams are going to stand still. Limerick are in a difficult place and while I can see signs of some hope the journey ahead will present many difficult challenges. It will take a lot of leadership to restore Limerick to the top table, leadership on the field, on the sideline but also in the board room. The latter has been absent for many years and sure they might say “There he goes again” but at what stage will they admit that they have failed to provide a road map for Limerick hurling?
Some hard calls should have been made last October but that didn’t happen and that will come back to haunt this management just like it did the previous incumbents. The current management weren't left with a great canvas but they will have to accept full responsibility for this season.
The positives from this year have been that players like Kyle Hayes and the Casey brothers look like they will stay the course. Hayes had a great year for such a young age. Just out of minor he showed leadership beyond his years and was probably Limericks best hurler in 2017. We had all hoped for more but sadly once again we have failed to make the quarter finals. It will take a lot of work to get Limerick back to the top table but once more we live in hope.
Finally this week I want to remember Tommy Lunn from Kildimo who recently passed away. he had a great love of hurling and I know few people that enjoyed watching the games as much as him.
His death was a shock to his wife Mary and to her and his family I offer my sincere condolences.