I was on the road to Dublin yesterday morning at 6.15am. It wasn’t easy to roll out of the cot at that ungodly hour but I arranged Kilmacud Crokes training early so I could be organised and be able to get into Croke Park early.
And yet despite all my planning, I still got my calculations wrong. Part of that was down to me underestimating the scale of the Mayo support because when I went to buy a ticket at the office just after noon, the options available weren’t hectic. And that is how I ended up watching the game from the Davin End corner of the stadium.
You are a little reliant on the big screen at times but at least I was up high. In that context, the position was perfect because it gave me a full view of how both teams set up.
It also gave me another chance to see how tactically sharp Limerick are. And I was seriously impressed – Limerick are as flexible as a good plank of thin ash. They can bend and twist to nearly breaking point. But they never look like breaking.
They are just purring at the moment. They had some incredible wides while Nickie Quaid made two good saves. But Limerick were still in control of the match from the first minute.
When I was coaching the Limerick minors in 2015, we picked Peter Casey at centre-forward in the first round against Cork. When we got a right clipping there were Limerick lads asking me afterward, ‘What were ye doing playing Caso at number 11?’
Caso is an out-and-out assassin. When we beat that same Cork team three months later in the Munster semi-final, his late goal sealed the win. Those Limerick lads who questioned us earlier that season, who said that you always play Peter close to goal, looked to be proven right.
But what would those same guys have been saying after yesterday? Caso did a lot of his damage out around the half-forward line, tackling like a demon, getting on the ball and stitching the play together. Yet he was still able to do damage on the scoreboard when he was close to goal.
That flexibility sets Limerick apart but the scary thing for everyone else is that Kyle Hayes or Graeme Mulcahy have still found nothing like the form of 2018 yet. Seamie Flanagan has only being used as an impact sub for the last few games.
Limerick are just oozing class and belief but much of that confidence also stems from how comfortable they are with their system. They don’t mind just having two forwards in their own half of the field but Aaron Gillane is just a beast of an option for them up top. He doesn’t care if the ball comes in high or low, or with two or three lads around him, Gillane is always a threat.
And what a magical goal he scored.
Defenders or deep-lying players always have options. There was a stage in the second half when Mikey Casey was coming out of defence, and was looking up and wondering where to deliver the ball. He only had to wait a second to make up his mind because his brother made a dart towards the sideline.
A 55-yard ball up along the sideline is never an ideal pass but it invariably is when Limerick are playing with their current confidence and belief – Peter won the ball first time before picking out a colleague through the middle.
Limerick also seem to be consistently able to get Declan Hannon into the Tom Brady quarter-back role, where he is sitting in the pocket dictating the play.
He’s almost their go-back-to guy, as in midfielders or half-forwards are never afraid to pass the ball backwards to Hannon. The better pass is often behind you and it often is with the quality of Hannon’s stick-passing.
Limerick are flooding the middle but their stick-passing has also gone to another level. They’d get off passes in a crammed phone-box. Yet while the opposition can’t tie those players down, Limerick continues to savage opponents in the middle third.
As soon as there is any spillage, or mistake, Limerick swarm like a hive of killer bees.
Waterford got badly stung. Most of the debate this spring has been around Waterford’s more expansive style but yesterday was a big wake-up call.
They were so wide open at times that I wonder if they’ll revert to a sweeper when they play Limerick in the championship? I’d say Noel Connors, who was tormented by Gillane, might have been asking Padraic Fanning afterwards, ‘Can we go back to the sweeper?’
As well as being open at the back, they struggled enough up front. Some of the forwards had their moments, especially Stephen Bennett, but not enough of them did. Even some of the subs they brought on up front looked a bit headless at times, running into blind alleys.
Also the decision to put Jamie Barron marking the mercurial Cian Lynch completely stiffed Barron’s attacking threat.
John Kiely will be delighted with how his squad have kept improving.
They got the maximum out of the league but they still look fresh too. They’ll go back to the clubs now for a few weeks, which will give the players a break from each other.
Everything is motoring nicely. To borrow a Chelthenham phrase, Limerick have the best all-round game to get around the course; they can jump; if they clip the ditch, they can still fiddle their way over it; they can go up the hill; they can finish strong.
And at the moment, Limerick look the thoroughbred leading the pack.
Finally, at Kilmacud training yesterday morning, there was a real buzz to the session because we had our Dublin players back. When I was talking to Niall Corcoran about their positive impact, we got chatting about the proposals going before the Cork county board tomorrow evening, where Option C – if passed – would see clubs play two championship games without their county players.
Corcoran and I were totally against it but – and I think this is important to mention – none of us outside of Cork fully appreciate the massive volume of clubs in the county, and the fixtures headaches that comes with it.
So, it’s understandable why the county board may need to do something different to ensure their massive playing population get enough games.