One of the most important factors in returning a winning side to the field following a huge success is keeping things fresh. Too many changes and the team may get unsettled and not deliver the same sort of performances as their predecessors. Not enough and things might get stagnated, the hunger mightn’t be as rich and the performances as a result may suffer. Luckily, the GAA has fostered the league to be a breeding ground for depth and for the squad players to make their claim for a possible championship breakthrough. And with the tweak to this year’s league format, Division 1A has more cause for experimentation than ever before.
Limerick appear to be the masters of that experimentation so far. Three games in, they’re unbeaten and have blooded a number of relatively fresh faces who appear to be capable of slotting seamlessly into a championship starting fifteen come June. We wouldn’t envy John Kiely having to make the call of dropping one of the fifteen that delivered the county an All-Ireland title – they were literally all All-Star candidates, even substitute Shane Dowling – but if Kiely was to adjust his 2018 side who could be in contention? We’re ignoring Dowling for this because he’s been a starter over the years and will be hugely involved this year, be that in a starting or impact sub capacity.
Condon is forging a cult hero status for himself with his performances in the league so far. The Knockaderry corner back made a cameo during last year’s All-Ireland final and has been in and around the Limerick side for the best part of the last decade, and right now is making a strong case for a championship start ahead of the youthful vigour Limerick have in spades. If Mike Casey’s injury problems persist into the summer, Condon will almost certainly start at corner back as last year’s All Star Sean Finn has slotted into full back for now.
The Kilmallock clubman has impressed at wing back for both county and college so far this year. He’s been immense for UCC, helping them to next week’s Fitzgibbon Cup final. He’s slotted in seamlessly for Limerick as well, ahead of Dan Morrissey in the left sided position. He would be doing incredibly well to usurp Morrissey, or indeed Diarmaid Byrnes on the other side, but the 21-year-old has acquitted himself well enough for Kiely to scratch his head at least.
A midfield member of Limerick’s 2017 U-21 winning side, Hanley’s all action displays looked worthy of consideration at senior level. He’s unfortunate to face competition from the terrific Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan combination that has done incredibly well so far, as well as the industrious Colin Ryan in contention also. Hanley slotted in well against Kilkenny and didn’t look out of place – he could be an impact sub option this summer.
The Doon clubman is another who has impressed for both club and college this year. His moment against Kilkenny where he worked back to hook the defender, overturn possession and then slotted the ball over the bar from the sideline has been his highlight in the green jersey, but anyone familiar with his performances for UL and Doon will know he’s a prolific attacker capable of scoring from anywhere across the forward line. If he can match the work rate of last year’s starting six he’ll definitely play some part this summer.
The Na Piarsaigh marksman is nearly the forgotten man of this forward line. His club commitments meant he was out of the starting fifteen in 2018, and never reclaimed his position as Graeme Mulcahy went on to have a Player of the Year calibre year. Now with no club concerns, Casey should slot into a corner forward role at various stages throughout the year and be one of the first subs off the bench if he doesn’t get the starting fifteen nod.
The only name here who wasn’t involved in 2018 at all. The Na Piarsaigh youngster has slotted into wing forward and done incredibly well, showing the class and work rate of a player who’s been firmly established in John Kiely’s panel for years. Boylan faces competition from the likes of Tom Morrissey and Gearóid Hegarty, who were both awesome in 2018 – but the way he’s playing, he could be a dark horse for a starting spot at some stage throughout the Munster championship campaign.
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