Limerick can choose statement performances this springtime

It would be pushing it to hold that the stalwarts of the Limerick Association in Dublin knew what was coming last year. It would not be pushing it to hold that they were quietly optimistic nonetheless. They were quietly optimistic because they’d broken bread with these young lads.

At the back end of 2017 the Limerick Association in Dublin had their annual bash in the Red Cow Moran Hotel. The special guests included a deputation from the county’s All Ireland-winning U21 team of a couple of months earlier. Cian Lynch and a number of his colleagues made the trip to the capital and proceeded to wow an audience not easily wowed.

John Kiely arrives at Wexford Park. Even though his Limerick team might improve this year, it doesn’t mean they will find it any easier to make it back up the steps of the Hogan Stand.

They were polite, they were engaging, they chatted away to older Limerick folk long domiciled in the capital and generally honoured the household gods – and lo, it was good. Afterwards, in appreciation of duties handsomely done, the Association stalwarts laid on a minibus to ferry the young lads to Coppers. The oul’ lads themselves? They went home well pleased.

This, it was clear, was a group with the intelligence and groundedness to win a senior All-Ireland, even if it would almost certainly take a few years.

It didn’t.

Another All-Ireland within the next two or three seasons? It is eminently likely.

Another All-Ireland this season, on the admittedly tenuous basis that if you wait 45 years for a bus, two such conveyances may turn up at the same time?

It is eminently unlikely, if only because the new championship structures militates against back to back champions.

Limerick may be as fit, fast, organised and determined in 2019 as they were in 2018. They may even be a better team: a year more poised, a year more grooved, a year more confident, with Aaron Gillane a year more poised when it comes to one on one finishing. What they may not do, on the other hand, is succeed in riding the rapids with the same degree of merited good fortune they did last summer.

End up in enough one-score finishes, a la Coventry City and their ceaseless relegation battles of a generation ago, and sooner or later you’ll be on the wrong side of that one score.

But so what? John Kiely and his charges are in a state of grace that will obtain indefinitely. Shannonside heroes for the rest of their lives, the owners of LA privileges that will never expire. All that can be asked of them in 2019 is that they be as good as they can be. Thereafter the current will take them where it will.

How rivals will go about unstitching them is no mystery, albeit easier said than done. Seamus Flanagan revealed the champions’ non-secret at a press gig lately.

Our gameplan is very hard to work out because it’s just workrate, that’s all it is. Hooking, blocking, tackling. How do you create a gameplan that can work against that? You can’t.

"All you can do is try to match the workßrate. We feel ourselves that no one can match our workrate. If someone gives 100 per cent, we give 110 per cent. Once you always have more workrate, more hooks, more blocks, more possessions, then it’s hard to beat you.”

Precisely. Not esoteric, is it? Limerick stand out among recent All-Ireland winners for their lack of a unique selling point writ in large neon letters.

Galway in 2017 were big and scary. Tipperary in 2016 had that kaleidoscopic, hydra-headed attack. Cody’s Kilkenny at their apogee were better than everyone else. But eventually Galway ran into Limerick, who were equally big, and in 2017 Tipperary’s carousel was switched off at the mains in the All-Ireland semi-final, and in the long run even Brian Cody discovered that all-round excellence and determination are perishable goods.

By being more diffuse, and therefore harder to combat, Limerick are more dangerous. But… Don’t possess an attacking wizard – a Callanan, a Reid, a Horgan - on whom your hopes are fixed?

Good: he can’t be imprisoned. Don’t possess an attacking wizard on whom your hopes are fixed? Bad: there’s nobody to magic something out of thin air in a crisis or come the afternoon you get outworked and out-possessed. An afternoon that Limerick will encounter sooner or later.

Then again, this is a team that could hit 20 wides in an All-Ireland final and still be comfortable entering injury time. They reached Croke Park last August, and triumphed there, by continually being able to find a way. It is a glorious gift, usually the preserve of far more experienced men.

No team retained and recycled possession in 2018 with the poise that Limerick did. No team was as well coached, with the substitutes improving in various ways over the course of the campaign. Barry Murphy, hardly one of the monsters of the panel at 5’10, getting stronger under the dropping ball. Barry Nash, a forward, learning how to tackle. Barry O’Connell improving shooting off his left.

The stars learned too. Gillane decided to change his freetaking style following tutorials with Paul Kinnerk and was comfortable with the alteration.

Diarmuid Byrnes had a Damascene conversion in regard to his Austin Gleeson/Steven Gerrard attempts at Hollywood scores from distance and started to place the sliotar in front of a member of the full-forward line instead. Even no less a being than Cian Lynch improved his left-sided striking.

Would Lynch have scored his All-Ireland semi-final goal against Cork a year previously? No, because with the grip he has he wouldn’t have felt sufficiently comfortable getting his stick across his body to shoot off his weaker side.

The new league campaign had two dates ringed for them in red. The first two weekends, after which Limerick can do as they see fit.

Last Sunday in Wexford Park was an afternoon for reaching for the loud hailer and informing the world they were open for business again. They seized it. Tonight brings the second important occasion, less for the fact they’re performing to a captive home audience hoping for a show.

Limerick can pick and choose their statement performances this springtime. Tipperary cannot. It comes with the territory when you’re the only team in Division 1A trading under new management and it won’t do them any harm in the short term. No Tipp fixture in this competition will be a footnote.

Patently they were the more determined team in Thurles seven days ago, as well they might have been. Patently they were helped by the return of Seamus Callanan.

He scored two goals, both of them finished with the aid of that ubiquitous bystander, A Plomb, and won a penalty. With anyone else it would have constituted a headline. With Callanan it amounted to simply another statistic.

Richie Hogan, one of the ghosts at the championship table last year, wasn’t fit enough to start last weekend. Callanan, another of the ghosts at the championship table last year, was. It may mean something in the long run. It may mean nothing.

Tonight? Expect two motivated teams to produce a right rattle.

And the Limerick Association in Dublin to be proud of their boys whatever the outcome.

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