You can look at most things in more than one way. On Sunday, Limerick took the field in Thurles as Munster champions to play a Tipperary team with a recent history of not doing themselves justice but whose league form suggested material improvement.
Limerick, however, hadn’t kicked on since winning Munster a year ago. A poor performance in the All-Ireland semi-final against eventual champions Clare left a lingering suspicion the team had relied on the potent symbiosis with the crowds in the Gaelic Grounds and weren’t the same force removed from that environment.
The retirement of manager John Allen was followed by a succession process that took longer than expected, a disappointing league and a management crisis just weeks before the championship after Donal O'Grady walked away, unhappy with the county board's response to the failure to secure promotion to Division One A.
So what was the most reliable indicator? Not the more obvious one, anyway. A swirling 70 minutes on Sunday gave the answer to a few of the reservations.
“It’s brilliant,” according to Limerick wing back Gavin O’Mahony. “It’s hard to take it in. To come over . . . in a Munster semi-final against Tipp and win, it’s a huge ask.
“Very few teams do it. It’s 40 years since Limerick have done it. We were very aware of that.
“We’d no other goal at the start of the year other than Tipperary in the semi-final. When you put as much pressure as that on yourself going into a match, it’s unbelievable when it comes off. Already we’ve to start looking forward now. To beat Tipp in a Munster semi-final and not win another match wouldn’t be good enough at all.”
Suddenly we're all examining the entrails of Limerick's All-Ireland semi-final defeat that bit more closely. They were comfortably beaten in the end but a dose of the yips compromised Declan Hannon's free taking and by the time Shane Dowling arrived and was entrusted with the duties, four points had been lost.
On Sunday, Dowling started and scored 10 times from the placed ball; Limerick were awarded only 12 frees in total. So, what if he had been taking all of the frees last August? Would it have been different? Would Limerick’s prospects have been rated more highly last weekend?
“Yeah at this level, you just have to take your chances,” says O’Mahony. “You only get so many of them and you have to take 80-85 per cent of them. We didn’t against Clare but fair play, we did today. We can’t keep looking back though that’s the thing. We’ve been looking back for 40 years and it’s time to put a bit of belief in this group. Keep our feet on the ground, keep our focus and the sky’s the limit.
“We’ve no shortage of motivation. Any paper you’d pick up, any person you’d meet on the street, it was an easy Tipp win. We didn’t want for motivation.
“You just have to buy in to your own camp, listen to your own camp and have a small bit of belief. What we took from last year was huge.
“After the semi-final against Clare, we just felt that we came up short. We went from being very close to it to being well down the pecking order again. We didn’t quite buy into that.”
O’Mahony knows what it takes to stand over the frees in big matches. Captain of the Limerick minors in the 2005 All-Ireland final, he made his senior championship debut in 2009 and gave a nerveless display in that year’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin, whose defeat owed a great deal to O’Mahony’s eight points from sidelines, 65s and frees.
Twice an All Star nominee, most recently last year, he is confident that whereas the progress made over the last couple of years is ongoing, Limerick are no longer a team in transition but ready to challenge for the highest honours and conscious opportunity doesn’t knock on any county’s door for long.
"We've huge belief in our group. We've huge belief in our strength and conditioning coach, Mark Lyons. He had it drilled in to us that we'd worked so hard throughout the year that there was no team going to find us wanting in the last 10 minutes. To be fair to him, he has proved that again today.
“We were very conscious of two years ago and we used that last year. We didn’t finish out the game two years ago and we can only work on stuff you can control. Your fitness is one element. You have to work on that because there’s stuff out there that happens during matches that you can’t control.
“You’d be talking about teams in transition – and we were in transition for a couple of years – but this group of lads, they’re not young fellas. You only get a year or two to try to win when you come in. There’s a fierce hungry bunch of lads. They work unbelievably hard. You don’t do that year in year out just to compete. You want to win a medal. Now we’ve a chance to do that again.”
No two ways about it.