Dan Morrissey and Declan Hannon celebrating Allianz Hurling League promotion
THE unaccustomed surroundings of Netwatch Dr Cullen Park in Carlow will provide the backdrop as the Limerick senior hurlers kick-off the final phase of their season.
It may not seem like the right time to say this but 2018 has been a success for John Kiely’s men.
They have already played 14 competitive games this season.
While all would have loved to play in last Sunday’s Munster SHC final, Limerick have met a number of targets this season.
Not least, ending an eight year wait to win promotion out of the second tier of the Allianz Hurling League. Before that Limerick had won the Munster Hurling League.
The new-look Munster SHC saw Limerick win both home games against Waterford and Tipperary and draw with Cork. Then came the winner-takes-all derby with Clare with a Munster final spot on offer – Limerick were flat, very flat.
All left Ennis disappointed, very disappointed.
But as I drove to Mallow for the first game of the season on December 30 last, I would most certainly have taken league promotion and a place in the All Ireland SHC series.
And, that’s where Limerick are right now.
Fourteen games played and two defeats – an Allianz Hurling League semi final loss to Tipperary in Thurles and a de facto Munster SHC semi final loss to Clare in Ennis.
So Limerick now head to the banks of the river Barrow this Saturday evening to play Carlow in the All Ireland SHC preliminary quarter final.
The prize on offer is a July 15 quarter final against the losing side from the replay of the Leinster SHC final between Galway and Kilkenny in Thurles this Sunday.
Now beating either of those two sides and reaching an All Ireland SHC semi final in Croke Park on July 28/29 would be a significant step forward.
While saying that 2018 has already been a success I also think it is right that reaching Croke Park must now be the target and Limerick are two wins from such a scenario.
The first obstacle is Joe McDonagh Cup champions Carlow.
It comes three weeks after the loss to Clare. A loss that prompted some ‘supporters’ to hit out at a "spineless and gutless" display.
As someone who has seen all 14 games this season, I’m pretty such the ‘real Limerick’ simply didn’t show up in Ennis. That a third successive weekend of action proved too much for John Kiely’s men.
So I expect a reaction over the next two weekends. Not to dismiss Carlow but Limerick quite simply must defeat Colm Bonnar’s side.
Victory over Carlow would give Limerick a chance to make another statement with a performance against Galway or Kilkenny – remember it’s only a few weeks ago, Limerick were the hurling story of the Summer.
I don’t expect Limerick to tear up the script. Management have used 25 players in the four Munster SHC games – just 17 players got starting roles.
Four players – Nickie Quaid, Diarmaid Byrnes, Dan Morrissey and Kyle Hayes – have played every minute of championship action to-date.
With Paul Browne out injured and Tom Condon, suspended that two of the 25 players ruled out but still changes I would think are minimal enough.
Nonetheless, with a panel of 36, the make-up of the team and indeed remainder of the 26-man matchday panel will be interesting.
Limerick are the hottest of 1/66 favourites to beat Carlow but what I will be looking for is an efficient and professional performance. Limerick at their best will beat Carlow but if anything is sloppy all could get a little uncomfortable.