When Henry Martin wrote his book ‘Unlimited Heartbreak’ around a decade ago, he effectively documented what it said on the tin for the Limerick hurling public. The book was almost a parallel version of Angela’s Ashes — it was just a different form of misery and misfortune, like summer blackness as opposed to perennial Limerick darkness.
Winning an All-Ireland in 2018 certainly put a cap on the heartbreak, but, like anyone who has endured a famine or a drought, the last thing you want is to go back and experience those days of longing again.
I got that sense from Limerick at the weekend. In my mind, if Limerick want to win this league, they will. Limerick probably will secure back-to-back league titles at the end of this month, but it’s about much more than just another league title; John Kiely will want his players to start thinking like the Kilkenny and Tipperary fellas, the Cork lads of old — that more is never enough.
If Limerick put it all together later in the summer, they will win the All-Ireland. The big question is whether they can? They didn’t do that last July against Kilkenny and that pain and anguish has clearly been driving Limerick on ever since.
In numerous interviews after 2018, I heard some Limerick players say that they were desperate to experience that winning feeling again.
That’s the buzz all elite sportspeople are always chasing. That pursuit was the poison in Kilkenny’s bite for over a decade but, apart for that desire to win again, Tipperary have a different motivation this year — to win successive All-Irelands for the first time since the mid 1960s would bury the notion that Tipp can’t win a two in-a-row.
Limerick and Tipp are the two front-runners for this year’s Liam MacCarthy Cup but it’s been interesting to witness the dynamic at play in both counties throughout the spring. Limerick want to keep their foot pressed to the floor, as much to convince themselves of their strengths and brilliance, than to win another league title.
Tipp clearly had no interest in a league title last spring and I wouldn’t think Liam Sheedy is unduly worried now that their campaign ended yesterday in Salthill. Sheedy has found some new players. The squad will get sharper and fitter as the season unfolds.
A manager never not wants to win but, deep down, Tipp don’t need a league title for self-endorsement in the same way that Limerick probably do.
Limerick only won by four points on Saturday evening but it still felt like a ten-point win. Yet does that say as much about Limerick as it does about Waterford?
Limerick are flying it but they put a lot into these league games. How much did Waterford put into that match?
Gearoid Hegarty’s goal was brilliant and, while they could have had another couple of goals, Limerick won’t need to be told that they have only scored five in five league games.
When they do score a goal, it’s invariably clinically worked and finished, with the final thrust coming off a third man runner. But those kind of goals can be difficult to keep creating. If you can keep Limerick to one goal, and then bag two or three at the other end, teams will have a chance of beating them.
Limerick’s system means they often leave Aaron Gillane up on his own, which can leave him isolated. Gillane is excellent at making runs before the ball comes in but teams will have studied that too. Gillane is such a good ball-winner that he can secure possession with two men on him, or with a sweeper outside him, but he loves that ball to his left side so he can turn and shoot off his left.
Playing that covering defender to Gillane’s left, and forcing the ball down the other channel to the Patrickswell man’s right, could be far more beneficial to the opposition if Gillane is forced to shoot off his right.
Every team is taking notes whenever they can. Whoever meets Limerick now in two weeks will know all about it because you’ll probably see them at their best then. They may have a down week this week, or else they’ll keep their foot to the gas, but, either way, the benefits of their recent five-day training camp will soon be visible.
I think Liam Cahill will be happy with Saturday evening. They played like a side who already knew they were in a quarter-final and Waterford may be better off now facing Kilkenny on Sunday than hanging around for another week. Having a right cut off Kilkenny may be the best way for Cahill to find out what kind of stuff is really in his young players.
Sheedy will have found out plenty about his young guns which is what he’ll have wanted most out of this campaign. The performance was nowhere near good enough yesterday, especially their indiscipline, and some of their shooting, but all of that stuff will be ironed out.
Tipp showed flashes of their class in the first half but I never felt that they were seven points a better team in that opening 35 minutes. Goals are obviously a game-changer, especially three of them, but Galway had the same attitude after the break. Tipp struggled to contain Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon but Galway were really impressive all over the field. This was a huge win, and fully deserved.
I’m not trying to be down on Carlow but Westmeath definitely deserved to stay up. They were solid throughout the campaign and, on an overall scale, Westmeath’s survival was an endorsement of the qualities they showed over the last six weeks.
Offaly will be devastated not to have made the Division 2A final, especially after coughing up a six-point lead in injury time. Still, Offaly’s priority is to win the Christy Ring and then keep building a young squad. And that rebuilding project might be a lot easier in Division 2A next year than shipping big hidings like Carlow took in this year’s Division 1.
Offaly may look back on today as maybe not the worst result in the world. But it never feels that way at the time.