Make hay while the sun shines. As eluded to in our Tipperary preview, getting the most out of an exceptional squad while they’re at the peak of their powers is always easier on paper than in reality. Especially when it comes to senior inter-county hurling. And, in Limerick’s case, this is really the first time in decades where there is a genuine feeling that the remnants of the tumbleweed in the trophy cabinet can be cleared, and it’s an opportunity that has to be taken.
That’s not to deduct from what this group has achieved already. Not in the slightest. But if you’re capable of winning an All-Ireland in 2018, your’re capable of defending it in 2019. So why shouldn’t you throw the kitchen sink at it to give yourself the best possible chance? The fixtures aided them last year, they got their breaks, they bided their time. Finishing third probably helped them in the longer run, but have no doubt they will be targeting Munster this year, to complete the collection for now.
This year, they have a bye in the first round, okay, a positive in that Cork have to show what they’ve got straight away, and they will have to, they can’t not win at home. However, as has been widely acknowledged by Limerick hurling folk, they do not want to be going into the last game, three weeks on the bounce, against Tipperary needing a result. It’s by far the least likely game that they’ll win.
Aside from that, it’s hard to argue against them continuing their dominance. The squad remains largely injury free, and even if it weren’t, Kiely and Co. have ensured that they have two teams of more-or-less similarly styled players who can step into the belly of the beast with ease. The Limerick public have bought into the team – why the hell wouldn’t they – despite the slick, movement-based passing game that traditionalists have despised for so long. Yet what have they won when the long ball in was king? Not a whole lot.
Kiely has admitted to having to change his tact this year, clearly the same approach won’t retain their crown, but ultimately, it’s not rocket science. It’s exceptional fitness, effortless skill, telepathic awareness, constant movement, accurate passing, reduced concessions of frees, and tireless, relentless, lung-busting effort. And the fact that more balls than ever are being distributed properly into key men in the full forward line and, critically, being won first time.
The game is based around giving the men who will either score or win a free the best possible chance to get the ball into their hand. Leave space inside, move constantly to reduce the odds of the defender getting out in front, and play the ball in to give the inside man a 70/30 chance of claiming it. Not rocket science, but difficult to pull off that many times in an entire season.
The squad was reduced recently, but still boasts 37 top class players. Oisin O’Reilly, the Kilmallock livewire, was perhaps a surprise omission, but he’s still a young player with plenty to offer in the future. He’s a renowned goal poacher, but admittedly, the full forward line is not without backup currently, with Aaron Gillane, Graeme Mulcahy, Peter Casey, Seamus Flanagan, Shane Dowling, Barry Murphy, Pat Ryan and Kevin Downes all vying for three spots. Frightening really. You’d say it reminds you of Kilkenny back in the day in terms of depth, but a Kilkenny man would have your tongue pulled out before you could finish.
Naturally, this team has not come close to even within a sniff of the achievements of those great sides, but nevertheless, similarities exist. The only other squad packed with such an array of replacement options is Galway, and that depth will certainly be put to the test over coming weeks, such is there injury situation.
The championship team is a concept that has changed it’s meaning in recent times. A consistent 15, with probably two or three subs was the name of the game in the past, and nobody else really got much of a look in. In the current format, 24 or 25 players could reasonably expect to see action of some kind, and undeniably, with the crosshair on their backs, injuries will be unavoidable. Winning the league has to be seen as an advantage, and as long as the impressively focused mindset stays true, it’s hard to see Limerick not, at the very least, getting out of Munster and giving the All-Ireland series another hard rattle. This is their time. Are they really good, or are they capable of greatness?
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