Renaissance – an age of new ideas, new hope, new technologies, ideologies and a willingness to break from the shackles of previously held assertions, reputations and methods. One could argue that the game of hurling, certainly the senior inter-county scene itself, is going through such a transition now.
Within this, you get the sense that 2018 could be the turn of Limerick, after Clare, Wexford, Cork, Tipperary, Galway and Waterford have all emerged from so called doldrums of previous years to genuinely challenge for, and occasionally achieve, the ultimate prize.
You could also be forgiven for feeling a sense of déja vu about this. Limerick people are blue in the face from hearing about their three time All-Ireland winning U-21 side of the early 2000s, and even more weary of hearing how they failed to meet their potential, bar a sparkling season in 2007, when they last contested an All Ireland final.
Then, as now, the weight of expectation was exceptional. The last battalion of those players, spear-headed with names like O’Shaughnessy, Lawlor, Tobin, Moran and Reale, coasted to victory over Galway, before largely disappearing from view, only to re-emerge dramatically and inspirationally as part of that ’07 campaign.
This is exactly what everyone involved in Limerick GAA will be trying to avoid this time around. Eternally the gallant runner up, this time round nobody will be jumping to conclusions, the general consensus is the unanimous view that patience is required. This was not so readily available in the early noughties, which, one must recall, still retained opened wounds from the infamous wars of 1994 and 1996. This current crop of players have worked closely with John Kiely before, the style and culture he is trying to reinvent is nothing new to them. This is a huge advantage, as morale and faith in the system and the hierarchy is something which has often eluded the side.
Pad Joe Whelehan, Justin McCarthy and Donal O’Grady, amongst others, have all attempted to instill their own unique culture and brand within previous squads, with very much mixed results. With any squad, and particularly, it seems, on Shannonside, getting players to buy into the mind-set, the end goal and the methods employed to achieve it is the most important aspect of managing. Next to this, comes the small issues of talent, hunger, drive, luck and squad depth.
For the first time, perhaps ever, both 2017 and even 2018 have been almost universally accepted as blooding years, and although an improvement on 2017 is undoubtedly expected, supporters should realise that it will be 2019 before this particular squad hit their peak and can realistically compete for top honours. Victory in this weekend’s Co-Op Superstore Munster Hurling League will set the tone for the year, you can be sure Kiely and company will not be treating it is a proverbial Mickey Mouse Cup, instead using it to blood youth and the upcoming talent that swept all before them at U-21 level.
The appetites are whetted once more, as always for Limerick fans, hope dangles tangibly closely, yet mercilessly out of reach. New leaders, heroes and protagonists will identify themselves and grow into their roles, mind-sets and common goals will be aligned and focus all their energy to working in unison toward the same goal – progress.
Words by Eoghan Tuohey.