Limerick hurling knock, knock knocking on Division 1A door
Return to the top flight must be earned the hard way at champions Galway's expense
Kevin Downes: “There’s nothing I’d love more than for Limerick to win on Sunday.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It says a lot about how well Limerick hurling is going right now that they’re still unbeaten in 2018 while 10 of their regular panel members have been sitting by watching, or else winning themselves with their club, Na Piarsaigh.
On Sunday, Limerick head to Pearse Stadium to face All-Ireland champions Galway, also unbeaten in Division 1B, with only the winners promoted to the top tier next season. Na Piarsaigh would normally have 10 players on the Limerick panel, including forward Kevin Downes, but for them the focus is the AIB All-Ireland club final against Cuala on St Patrick’s Day, having also gone unbeaten this season.
“They’ve been going very well without us,” says Downes “definitely going in the right direction, and it’s very positive for Limerick hurling. Even the way they’re playing, there’s a good method to it.
“It’s a huge game Sunday, obviously, up to Galway, but it’s all set up now, all to play for, everything on the line. But it hasn’t surprised me, no. We’ve been saying in Limerick for a few years now that the talent is there, the ingredients were there, ourselves in the club, Kilmallock, the U-21s winning the All-Ireland, it was a matter of making the cake.
“We’ve plenty of hurlers in Limerick, and it’s just about getting consistent performers, get the few wins under our belt. . . winning is a habit, and it’s amazing what that can do for the confidence in the set-up.”
Na Piarsaigh boast a remarkable winning record, having never lost a match in the Munster club hurling championship, last December winning a fourth provincial title in seven years.
It’s not that long since Na Piarsaigh played their first Limerick county final, in 2009, and ended up being hammered by Adare 1-17 to 0-3. Two years later they were Munster champions (the first and still only Limerick club to land that honour), and in 2016 capped off the perfect season with a comprehensive All-Ireland win over Ruairí óg Cushendall.
Still, promotion to Division 1A would be some icing on the county cake.
“Division 1B is not the end of the world by any means, right. For the likes of myself, Declan Hannon as well, we came on the Limerick panel in 2011, after being relegated in 2010. We won Division Two in 2011, and then it was restructured for 2012, and we’ve been in 1B ever since. Now that is too long, and it’s not great for player development.
“For Galway, who came down a few years ago, and are now All-Ireland champions . . Division 1B, it’s not the end of the world. I’m sure they’d love to get back up. For Limerick it won’t be the end of the world either, but just to get back up there for a few years, it would give plenty of players the experience of the top league, and that would be a big help.
“But it’s a new crew there now, and I think it would be a relief for everyone if we did get up, and get the chance to test ourselves against the top teams more often. Looking from the outside in, and including the players from UL, and Mary I, who won Fitzgibbons too, the players are there, it’s just about getting the blend right.
“But Division 1B is still very competitive, and for the likes of Galway, it means they can test players, while they rest the likes of Joe Canning, David Burke. If you’re playing Tipp in Thurles, Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, you mightn’t be as likely to test out players that are unproven, or newcomers.”
Downes intends on being in Galway in Sunday, briefly putting his club focus aside to cheer on his county.
“There’s nothing I’d love more than for Limerick to win on Sunday. We’ll be loading up a few cars and heading up on Sunday. We got a pass in, anyway.
“But you have to be focused on an All-Ireland final, simple as that. And hopefully everything we’re doing with the club at the moment will have a knock-on effect with Limerick over the summer.”