Limerick look to the summer for more boxes to tick
After an impressive league campaign, Kiely’s men now turn focus to bid for Munster title
Limerick manager John Kiely celebrates with defender Diarmaid Byrnes after the league final victory over Waterford at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Limerick’s first league title since 1997 has come off an almost seamless roll of performances going back to last July – since when only Cork have beaten them.
Furthermore, manager John Kiely has been in a position to use 33 different players in the campaign and they head into the summer with one box left to tick, a Munster championship title, which the county hasn’t won for six years.
For a team that has been almost routinely bridging gaps in the past 18 months it doesn’t have the feel of a hurling famine but, as Kiely said after the league final, the team isn’t motivated by historical landmarks.
“These guys don’t look at it like that. It’s another competition they don’t have a medal in. And how many of them have Munster medals? Very few, and that’s the top of the agenda now. I think we’re a stronger panel and maybe stronger mentally and can adapt to games maybe better.”
Whether they pay attention to it or not, Limerick have been hitting those landmarks. Sunday was the first time in 30 years that a county apart from Kilkenny has added the league title to an All-Ireland won the previous September.
Earlier in the season Laois manager Eddie Brennan, eight times an All-Ireland medallist with Kilkenny, whose team lost to Limerick in the league quarter-final, pointed out that he saw some of his own team in the current champions.
“They do remind me a bit of ourselves in that they have competition for places. It’s a manager’s dream to have a strong squad and have guys absolutely chomping at the bit and when you get a bounce like that and they’re hanging on every word, they see how it works, they see how good their set-up is.”
The display against Waterford in Sunday’s final showed how suited they are to Croke Park with its fast pitch complementing their pace, athleticism and physicality. After losing in the semi-final to them, Dublin manager Mattie Kenny acknowledged how demanding it was to take on the champions.
“I think Limerick are probably the most physical side in the championship at the moment. As well as being very good hurlers, they’re very well-conditioned. They’re good strong hurlers – a lot to be admired when you’re looking at them.”
Another former Kilkenny hurler and columnist with this newspaper Jackie Tyrrell caused controversy when saying at the start of the league that he didn’t see Limerick in the top three likely All-Ireland winners.
In this week’s Irish Times sports podcast, Added Time he reiterated that he still had doubts, based on the ‘challenges that are going to come in terms of squad rotation’.
He has a point in that the new round-robin championship is unforgiving terrain if anything goes wrong for a team, such as injuries or suspension as there is no time to recover because of the tightness of the timetable.
Momentum is also hard to recover after a bad start. Of the five teams, who lost their first match, only Clare survived to emerge from the province.
Limerick don’t have a match in the first week and must then play Cork after the latter have had the benefit of a match against Tipperary.
Right now, though, they are favourites to add Munster to their other titles.