It was only three years ago that then Limerick chairman Oliver Mann was telling club delegates that promotion from Division 1B was a priority for their senior hurlers.
His logic was reasonable. There were larger gate receipts among the top flight, for one. Then there was the attractive competitive nature among the top six.
Since then, though, much has changed. After Waterford in 2015, Clare and Galway have claimed league honours from the second tier, Galway even succeeding in replicating that success in the All-Ireland SHC. Division 1B is no longer regarded as the group of the also-rans but an opportunity to build up a head of steam for the league knockout stages and beyond.
Undoubtedly, a jump to Division 1A would be significant for Limerick’s progress but their promotion hopes have been cooled by the unavailability of the Na Piarsaigh contingent, who may end up not playing a single league game.
The promising Kyle Hayes is overcoming a groin injury and will likely miss the early couple of rounds.
The Kildimo/Pallaskenry player senses attitudes have changed to the league.
“It’s really only to get matches under your belt for the championship. If you come in the top four, you still get into the quarter-finals anyway, get to play the top teams. As long as we get games, that’s the main thing.”
That the likes of Shane Dowling, Ronan Lynch, and David Dempsey might not experience any competitive hurling for Limerick until the Munster opener against Tipperary in May is almost incomprehensible but Hayes says the rest of the panel can’t dwell on it.
“It’s tough for them and for us. But any team that’s successful for Limerick hurling, that’s the main goal. I hope they bring back another All-Ireland, that would be great for the county.”
Regardless of the absentees in the coming weeks, the teenager knows there will be an onus on Limerick’s starlets to back up their U21 pedigree of recent seasons.
“You win two All-Irelands in three years and people are going to expect Liam MacCarthy. We know ourselves we have the talent there now. And we have experience. Hopefully, we’ll get over the line this year.”
Hayes, who only turns 20 in July, was a breakthrough star last season, impressing in both of Limerick’s championship outings against Clare and Kilkenny.
“The shackles were off, especially in the Kilkenny game. We’d absolutely nothing to lose and we played a lot better in that game. We just lacked a bit of experience last year, we’d a lot of fellas making their championship debuts. Hopefully this year we’ll have four definite games, get out of Munster.”
The intense schedule, he feels, should suit a young side like Limerick. “All you want is experience of the big days. It doesn’t get much bigger than Munster championship. Our first game, Tipp at home, we’ll gain massive experience from that.
“In every county, not just Limerick, the age for inter-county hurling is getting younger and younger. I think we definitely do have the talent.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved