Jackie Tyrrell: I can't see Limerick retaining All-Ireland in 2019
Plenty of teams have begun their All-Ireland defence well in recent years, only to fizzle out
Limerick’s Conor Boylan in action against Tipperary earlier this month. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Limerick head to Nowlan Park tomorrow looking like they’ve wintered in a health spa. The only team in Division 1A with two wins from two, the best points difference against their name, the fewest scores conceded. A squad that famously didn’t bring the Liam MacCarthy Cup into a pub during the All-Ireland celebrations look like they barely thought to darken the door of one themselves.
We probably shouldn’t be too surprised, in all truth. It wouldn’t be correct to say that the era of doing the dog through the winter months after an All-Ireland win might is gone but it certainly looks different now than it used to. Last August, GAA reporters looked on in horror when they turned up for the traditional morning-after quotes session in the Limerick team hotel to find Kyle Hayes fresh out from a pool session. Young people these days.
Whatever the extent or otherwise of celebratory indulgence, it has become relatively common for All-Ireland winners to begin the following year’s league campaign as though they mean business. This time two years ago, Tipperary were top of the league after two games, leading the way in all the same categories as Limerick are now. A 1-18 to 0-15 win over Waterford in Walsh Park in their second game moved Derek McGrath to say: “I don’t think we’ll be the only team beaten by six points by Tipperary this year.”
Who had a mind to disagree? Nobody, really. Not in early 2017. Tipp were flying – and went on to beat Clare by seven points next time out. Yet they finished the spring with a filleting from Galway in the league final, fell to Cork in the first round of Munster and never got their legs properly under them for the rest of the summer.
It happens more than you’d imagine. The sheer horsepower generated by an All-Ireland win can often still be providing momentum through the early part of the following year, sometimes giving a false impression of just how well a team is going. Clare were irresistible in the early knockings of the 2014 league but petered out come summertime. The Kilkenny team that won five games on the bounce in the 2016 league ultimately ran out of road in that year’s All-Ireland final.
“When you win an All-Ireland, the confidence it gives you is unbelievable,” said Jackie Tyrrell during the week. “And that’s not to be understated, it propels you forward. You just want to stay hurling. You saw Limerick went out to Boston and they cleaned the floor with everyone out there.
“They were enjoying themselves and it was great to see. They’re on a conveyor belt and there’s a lot of good things going on in Limerick hurling and if you’re a player, you want to be a front-runner in that.
“But I wouldn’t be really getting too carried away by Limerick just yet. It’s a long year. I don’t see them winning the All-Ireland this year, I really don’t. They’re nearly going too well for me now. I would be wrapping some of those lads in cotton wool and holding them back a bit. It’s a long year. I know we can only analyse what we see in front of us but I wouldn’t be getting too excited yet.”
Clearly, the former Kilkenny defender – and soon to be Laochra Gael subject – has more experience than most in attempting to pick up after you’ve left off the previous year on the steps of the Hogan Stand. There is a time to be filling the tank and there is a time to be emptying it. As the calendar pages turn, we will learn more about what Limerick have going for them. Here in early February, Tyrrell is reserving the right to be suspicious of what he’s seeing.
“I don’t have them in the top three in terms of winning the All-Ireland. I think you have Clare, Galway and Tipperary – I don’t see Kilkenny or Limerick in that bracket at the minute. I don’t have them in there. John Kiely will be sitting at home rubbing his hands together when he hears that! But honestly, I don’t think anyone is as far on as Clare are at the minute and until the league throws up more, I wouldn’t have Limerick or Kilkenny in there.”
Whether he’s right or wrong, we won’t find out until we find out. Right now, Limerick’s only problem is they won’t know until then either.