Limerick on their way to matching Kilkenny – but not this Saturday

Former star Éamonn Cregan says victory in Nowlan Park a big ask for a young team

Éamonn Cregan: “In Nowlan Park, Kilkenny will always be competitive, and I still think they will be a force to be reckoned with as the championship progresses.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Éamonn Cregan: “In Nowlan Park, Kilkenny will always be competitive, and I still think they will be a force to be reckoned with as the championship progresses.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

If recent hurling trends continue, then Limerick are about to end their 44-year wait to beat Kilkenny in the championship. Only it won’t be in Saturday evening’s qualifier at Nowlan Park.

That’s the Éamonn Cregan, part of the Limerick team which recorded their last championship win over Kilkenny, in the 1973 All-Ireland final. They’ve only met five times since, including the following year’s final which Kilkenny won, although Cregan reckons it is only a matter of time before fortunes are reversed.

“Of course you hope Limerick can win, and they’re coming along nicely, but they’re a very young side,” says Cregan. “And to go down to Kilkenny, and beat Kilkenny, you need very experienced players, and unfortunately our experienced players are not playing very well. If they won it would be great, but it would be a big ask.

“But to me, it is another step towards becoming that experienced team, and getting among the top teams. And this is the kind of game they need, depending on the way they perform.

“Against Clare, the last day, they didn’t perform as well as they could. So I’d be hoping that A) – they play a more direct game. And B) – they play and fight to the bitter end. If they do that everyone in Limerick will be satisfied, again, based on the age of this team

“They are so many Limerick players just after coming up through the ranks of minor and under-21. I know Kilkenny are ailing, and have lost what, nine or 10 great players over the last year or so? No team can endure that.

“But in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny will always be competitive, and I still think they will be a force to be reckoned with as the championship progresses. Like, we’ll see at the end of the year how much Wexford have improved, and Galway have improved, although Galway are certainly ahead of the pack now. For Limerick, we’re still a little bit off at the moment.”

Need time

Cregan also points to two fresh results: Limerick beat Waterford last Sunday to win the inaugural Munster under-25 Reserves title, and also beat Tipperary in the under-21 Munster quarter-final.

“That was a huge boost,” say Cregan, who also spent two stints as Limerick hurling manager.

“Although Tipperary were very young, but it takes one step at a time. And that’s what John Kiely is doing. As he said at the start, give him time, and they need time. But it’s time more of the senior players stood up and be counted, and showed more example. Three of them were taken off the last day, and we ended up I think with 11 under-21s on the field.”

Since that 1973 final win, Limerick have lost all major showdowns with Kilkenny, including the 2014 semi-final, and 2007 final: “Limerick just have to be patient. If this game was in Limerick, you’d be more hopeful. But it’s a learning experience, it takes time. Take out the old players, the average age is still only 21. If you’re good enough you’re old enough, but that’s only for true for a few players. You still need your experienced players

“It is a long time, since 1973, and that’s also to do with our standard of club hurling. But we are beginning to see some of the players coming through academies, so yeah, hopefully that day will be soon, before we all pass away.”

Actually Cregan doesn’t intend on travelling to the game on Saturday evening: “No, I need to live a bit longer, and going to these Limerick matches is not good for my heart.”

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