Working with the Limerick underage hurling academy, and being on the ground so often around Limerick, it’s very easy to pick up on the oscillating mood and trends in a county desperate for success.
We saw it ourselves in Clare for so long. You want that success so badly, especially when you have good young talent available, that there can be an over-tendency to want it to happen before the time is right for it to actually arrive.
Counties like Clare and Limerick want to rush through young talent to win All-Irelands. Clare were lucky enough to do it in 2013 but they haven’t have had any senior success since. After last year’s impressive All-Ireland U21 success, the mood in Limerick now often seems to suggest, ‘We’re ready, we can’t wait any longer’. Unfortunately, you just have to.
Limerick saw before, with the three-in-a-row winning teams of 2000-02, that U21s won’t automatically win you All-Irelands. Winning these underage competitions often comes with a health warning.
I was surprised to see TJ Ryan exposed to such scrutiny and pressure after the Clare defeat because he is doing his best to integrate those new players and build a winning team.
Not playing with the same fire and heart you’d expect to see Limerick produce in a game against Clare was a black mark against TJ and the group but the performance against Dublin showed how that process of construction is on track.
Limerick came into that match hurt and intent on redemption after the Clare performance. I know they did some serious talking while they were also boosted by having the Na Piarsaigh players back.
Admittedly Dublin didn’t play well that weekend. Their intensity wasn’t what it needed to be but beating the Dubs in Parnell Park for the first time in five years was still a good win for Limerick.
Anytime you bring a big batch of new players into a group, as Limerick have done, it’s always going to be a difficult challenge in trying to get the blend right between the new and established players. Apart from not getting promoted, Limerick have managed that process smartly. They have found good players, most of whom have picked up great experience. They are in a league semi-final and may be getting ready for a league final by tomorrow afternoon.
Waterford represents another challenge again. With both teams more than likely playing a sweeper, I’d like to see Cian Lynch start at centre-forward and operate the role he so successfully did for the U21s last year — coming deep, working his magic and feeding great ball to the inside line. With Tadgh de Búrca so comfortable in the sweeper role now, I think Lynch would be the ideal guy to get de Burca thinking more about his screening and sweeping duties.
If Limerick can get the engine purring up front, with Lynch at the wheel, they have the firepower to cause enough problems. I’m not criticising Waterford but one goal in six games has to be a concern.
I saw Derek McGrath defending that statistic during the week but it’s still up to the opposition to beat them. Waterford, remember, lost just one out of six, and they made heavy weather of beating Wexford. Waterford just won’t give many teams a hiding at this level. On the other hand, they won’t ship any hidings either. They continue to keep bringing their game to the edge. As Pádraig Harrington famously once said, ‘If you keep bringing it to the edge, you’ll eventually fall over’.
He should know after his litany of near misses and second-place finishes before winning three Majors.
Waterford will be difficult to beat tomorrow but there may also be ulterior thinking going on here too.
Do Clare and Waterford really want to meet each other in two weeks’ time, five weeks before their Munster championship clash?
Ger Loughnane was the expert at this kind of stuff. The supposed two-hour training session before our collapse in the 1998 league semi-final never took place but he hardly opened his mouth in training that week before Cork carved us apart. Six weeks later, we made ribbons of Cork in the Munster semi-final, when Loughnane was like a man possessed.
It was the same in 1999 when Tipp beat us fairly easily in the league semi-final.
I remember a Tipp supporter roaring in my face that our time was up, I just smiled and said “we’ll see in Cork in a few weeks time”.
Could there be some of that going on now with Clare and Waterford? Clare are on a ten-game winning streak which they will want to continue. Waterford can’t be flippant about another league title. Still, if you asked Davy Fitz or Derek McGrath if they’d take a league title or a victory on June 5, you know which one they would grab.
I was very impressed with Wateford’s early season form. I could understand their slackness against Dublin, and slightly less so for Galway, and then against Wexford, but Clare also found out how difficult life can be in Wexford Park.
They have been motoring well in the circumstances of having had a quarter-final wrapped up after three games but I would still like to see the Waterford wing-forwards make those gamble-runs into the danger area more often in the hunt for goals.
When they put a goal or two beside the 19 or 20 points they are bound to hit, they will always be hard to reel in.
It’s a hard game to call but I’ll go for Limerick to meet Kilkenny in the final. If you fancy a friendly-fiver bet in the curtain-raiser, go for no goals to be scored. Because I certainly wouldn’t be putting the mortgage on the result.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved