Gearoid Hegarty of Limerick in action against Patrick O'Connor of Clare during Co-Op Superstores Munster Senior Hurling League Final between Limerick and Clare at Gaelic Grounds.
As the final days of January come to an end the sparks of another hurling season will get underway next Sunday.
For the Limerick senior hurlers, this is an important year and they start their league campaign against Laois at the Gaelic Grounds at 2pm on Sunday.
Limerick are trying to build a team and they will face into this league short a number of players through injury and through Na Piarsaigh's involvement in the All Ireland Club semi final.
This is a great opportunity for other lads on the panel and they are getting a major chance to step forward.
The games will come fast and that will allow players get valuable game time. Confidence is a major part of surviving at senior level.
Yes, talent is primary, but having the honesty to put the head down and work hard is nearly more important. A player with the right attitude will often outgun those with fancy flicks and from a Limerick point of view this team is in need of a few lads that will stand up and go at the opposition.
The game of hurling has changed over the past few years and now every manager is looking for big men. The battle to win possession is key, both in the air and on the ground.
For more than thirty years I have had the pleasure of watching so many great players and teams close up. From the training ground to Croke Park. I have learned one thing and that is, that it takes a special bunch to win All Irelands.
To win an All Ireland, players have to be single minded and selfish but the most important ingredient is honesty. Some people think that should be easily acquired but sadly so many players, teams and clubs find it very difficult to achieve.
Finding the winning formula is extremely difficult but I am reminded of a conversation I had with the legendary race horse trainer Aidan O’Brien, ‘It takes a lot of effort to win and I find that it will only ever be achieved when everyone is working with the same goal in mind. It’s my job to put the formula in place but I could not achieve success without the combined help of the team I have around me.”
There is so much in what O’Brien has to say. I have had the pleasure of spending time with him on a few occasions and it’s extremely interesting to hear his views on winning,
‘Winning is something everyone wants to aspire to, but it takes a huge amount of effort to cross the line. We have had some of the greatest horses in the yard. Many of them made winning look easy but equally we have had horses that had it all and failed to win. To me, honesty is the foundation of any success, that must come from within the group and people have to take responsibility for their actions.” he confessed.
It was interesting, when Michael Donoghue became Galway manager, that his focus was on getting the players to take ownership on the field.
It didn’t happen immediately but bit by bit they got it right.
“Most of the work is done on the training ground and while we can do some things on the day of a match we are limited. To me it was about getting the players to focus on making good decisions under pressure and allowing them take ownership. They are the people in the middle of the action, they can influence how things play out. It didn’t always work for them but over the course of the year they started to gain more confidence as they saw things working out’ the All Ireland winner added.
It proved to be worthwhile as Galway went on to win the All Ireland title for the first time in twenty nine years.
According to Donoghue it was hugely satisfying to see the hard work pay off, “The players are key to making it happen, they are the ones that must take responsibility and if you have that in a team they will become hard to beat. Winning is about getting lots of small things right and having guys that are capable and comfortable with leadership. I was lucky to have had a number of lads in the Galway set up with such qualities’ he continued.
Galway are in the same division as Limerick again this year and they are the favourites to gain promotion to Division 1A.
‘I think the early rounds of the league will be bruising, especially in Division 1A, where teams will want to gain points early and that will make for some cracking games. I think teams will try to measure it somewhat because championship will not be far away. As far as we are concerned we are expecting some difficult games in Division 1B and none more so than Limerick in the last game.” the Clarinbridge clubman added.
I have said for the past few years that it’s in the latter stages of the championship that teams like Limerick suffer from the loss of playing in Division 1B hurling.
Those games mould players and everything is done that little bit faster. We would all like to see Limerick back in the top flight but right now they are in the best division to build a team.
This current league must be about learning, development and attitude. If Limerick come out the other side with high marks in all of these indicators, then they will be ready for the championship.
From a management point of view Limerick are now in a better place than they were twelve months ago.
They might agree that they got a few things wrong last year and if they learn from that they too will be in an even better place.
For a long time the management team had the lads playing tennis and even a bit of handball. It was refreshing to see the players deliver good quality direct ball against Clare. Good teams win because they do the simple things well. They don’t over complicate things. Some Limerick players did that last year and it didn’t take long for opposing players to come to terms with them.
Twenty one years have passed since Limerick last won the National Hurling League. That game was in Ennis and manager Tom Ryan knew the then Country Board had sacked him before the game was played.
It brought to an end one of the most successful periods in Limerick hurling and sadly we linger in the hope of returning to those great days in the mid nineties.
It all begins on Sunday at the Gaelic Grounds and the best way of building towards great days again is to go and support the team. Let this be the year that real progress is made, let this be the year that Limerick GAA returns to the values that saw it gain huge respect. It will require a big effort in the board room and it will take a huge effort on the field but working together great things are possible.
Mary O' Connell
This week saw the sad passing of Mary O' Connell who was one of South Liberties greatest supporters. Wife of Willie who gave outstanding service to South Liberties in a variety of roles. Mary was a passionate GAA follower and she was ever present at games. I first met her many years ago in Caherconlish. This venue was a happy hunting ground for South Liberties. To Willie and the extended family I offer my since sympathy. Next week I will pay tribute to Michael Coughlan of Kildimo who passed away suddenly this week.