Barry Murphy celebrates scoring his side's goal against Tipperary last Sunday
The journey towards a new era began in the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday for the Limerick senior hurlers.
It was a fine win that continues and builds on the progress made so far this year. It was a win that will lift the team, management and indeed the entire county.
Limerick showed a lot of quality in the way they won this game but I was most impressed by the attitude of the players and management afterwards.
I am a long time looking at great teams in hurling and football. I have had the pleasure of being in their dressing rooms after major wins. I know how these teams carried themselves both on and off the field. Building a winning culture takes time, it takes a lot of hard work. It will never be achieved by one or two players. It can only be achieved by a collective desire to go far beyond the normal. What Limerick produced against Tipperary was a great willingness to work hard both individually and collectively.
Limerick delivered work rate, energy and pace while Tipperary looked a pale shadow of the team that lost last years All Ireland semi final by just one point.
Over many decades Limerick have produced some great players but they always struggled to build a panel. That is not the case now. Limerick have a bunch of young players that have dined in the winners enclosure from underage. They want to win, they expect to win.
What we saw last Sunday was a team taking the first steps towards becoming a great team. The journey is only starting and trust me there will be many turns and twists along that road. I have said over many years that Limerick were unable to contain themselves when it came to success. They had a great habit of getting carried away. I saw a side to Limerick last Sunday that really impressed me. For the first time that I can remember I saw a grounded group of players and management. That hasn’t happened by chance.
John Kiely and his management team made some big calls long before a ball was hit last Sunday. They decided to back the players that delivered during the National League. They decided not to start a single player from Na Piarsaigh. It was a source of much debate prior to the game but in reality it was the correct call. The Na Piarsaigh players were not long back with the squad and it would have sent the wrong message to the entire panel. Such a call would not have happened in recent years and all sides are a great deal stronger this week as a result of that call. It sends a clear message and the Limerick senior team will be all the stronger for it. It will ensure that when players get an opportunity they will leave no stone unturned to impress. It will also build unity and a great honesty within the team.
I said last week, if Limerick were with Tipperary with ten minutes to go they would win. In truth Tipperary were lucky to be still in the game at that stage. Limerick should have won by a great deal more. They had the Tipperary defence in all sorts of trouble and should have inflicted more pain. We hit some very poor wides and this has been a feature right through the league. It does show that we are winning possession but as this championship goes on the importance of taking those chances will come into sharp focus.
Tipperary were ragged and at times were shocking. The two goals they scored kept them in the game. It took a good while for the game to open up but once it did it was Limerick that had the greater stomach for battle. Limerick did the majority of the good hurling but still they trailed by a point at half time. Limerick gave away some really bad frees.
Seamus Hickey was struggling at full back. He hurled from behind and played with fear and Jason Forde knew that. I have said a good few times in this paper that he is not a full back and last Sunday might well have been his last day in that position.
Mike Casey solidified the defence when he came on. He had pace and attacked the ball. Sean Finn and Richie English had fine games. The half backline of Brynes, Hannon and Morrissey were impressive. Brynes took the game by the neck, he showed leadership in coming forward and also hit some crucial points.
When it mattered most Limerick had the players to stand up. They rattled Tipperary in the tackle and they took them on. Darragh O’Donovan put in a great shift at midfield and his work rate will have secured his place for the next outing.
Tipperary over the past few years have depended greatly on their half backline. Players like Ronan Maher and Padraic Maher have been the foundation to so many wins for them. Limerick didn’t allow that happen last Sunday.
Gearoid Hegarty was outstanding, he won some great pucks outs, scored points and overall showed great leadership. Kyle Hayes wasn’t as prominent but he did a great job in keeping Padraic Maher out of the game.
In picking my team last week I had Graeme Mulcahy at corner forward. He had his best game for sometime. Finishing with four points was a great return and that will give him a major confidence boost. Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan also did well while Tom Morrissey once more delivered huge work rate. Limerick made good use of their subs, Barry Murphy put the game to bed when he scored a great goal. He had a lot to do and used his head to bat it home. The run in the Fitzgibbon Cup with UL has stood to him but also the game time during the league. His club mate Pat Ryan also did well when introduced.
This win will stand greatly to Limerick. They showed maturity for such a young team and that will help them express themselves as the championship goes on. They will learn a lot from this win but they can expect a very different type of game against Cork on Saturday June 2. Last Sunday was about getting over the line. A loss would have set the team back but now they will have a bounce in their step.
Limerick are going in the right direction for the first time in many years. The foundation is set and the new format in the championship will suit Limerick. They have a player base with pace, energy and hunger. Those ingredients are vital to winning but most of all they now have a team prepared to work as a team and work for each other. The past has always haunted Limerick GAA, the county has always had baggage but right now this young team are plotting the future.