Saturday afternoon in Mallow was the first port of call with Wexford providing the opposition in the low-key setting of a challenge match.
McCarthy’s decision to wield the axe to his panel last October and the subsequent deluge of withdrawals have decimated Limerick’s squad and only two of last year’s championship panel, Brian O’Sullivan and Paudie McNamara, started this match.
Thus McCarthy had assembled a team dominated by novices and he’ll have been heartened by their battling qualities to grind out a draw in the finish as they pegged back Wexford with two late points to force a draw.
But the result came with a couple of caveats. Technically Wexford should have won with Stephen Banville having a perfectly good point waved wide by the umpires and Colm Bonnar was in an experimental mood. Only three of Saturday’s Wexford side started when the counties met in the All-Ireland qualifiers last June, with established players Diarmuid Lyng and Keith Rossiter sprung from the bench during the second-half.
“I’m pleased we got a game there today and all the lads got a run-out,” said McCarthy. “I was delighted with the support we got as well and the effort in particular. It was typical Limerick hurling today, which was very important, and they gave their all, they were together today for the first time. I was very pleased with the spirit shown to come back, it was very good.”
Bonnar regarded the game as a useful workout, regardless of his opponent’s travails over the winter.
“It was a good match for us. We’re very much experimenting with a trial panel, so we’re delighted to have got a game and started off.”
Limerick’s defence was largely solid with full-back Des Kenny and Kieran O’Rourke both impressing. Half-back Lorcan O’Dwyer, who operated last year on Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s county football panel, turned in a fine hour while wing-forward Cathal Mullane hit three lovely points. The star turn was wing-forward Tommy O’Brien, who showed a innate ability to notch points from play and frees.
O’Brien was one of six Limerick players to see action who featured for the county U21’s last summer, with Nicky Quaid, son of former goalkeeping great Tommy, at midfield.
Adare goalkeeper Timmy Houlihan did not line out nor did former Kerry netminder Tadhg Flynn, while South Liberties involvement in Sunday’s All-Ireland IHC semi-final robbed Limerick of other personnel options.
McCarthy’s squad is predominantly a youthful one and he seemed encouraged by their spirit and feistiness.
But he’ll be aware that the standards will be raised considerably in the weeks ahead.
Scorers for Limerick: Thomas O’Brien (0-7, 0-4f), Paudie McNamara (0-2f), C Mullane 0-3 each, B O’Sullivan, R McKeogh, C Allis, S O’Donnell, P Harty 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: J Berry 0-8 (0-6f), D Lyng 0-3 (0-1 ‘65), D Nolan, J Gahan 0-2 each, T Mahon, H Kehoe, M Connors 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: B Hennessy (Kilmallock); D Lynch (Na Piarsaigh), D Kenny (Ballybrown), K O’Rourke (Bruree); A Brennan (Caherline), Paul McNamara (Na Piarsaigh), L O’Dwyer (Pallasgreen); D Moore (Monagea), N Quaid (Effin); Tommy O’Brien (Patrickswell), B O’Sullivan (Kilmallock), C Mullane (Kileedy); A O’Connell (Adare), Paudie McNamara (Murroe-Boher), R McKeogh (Kildimo).
Subs: C Allis (Croom) for O’Connell (half-time), D Madden (Bruff) for Moore (45), Tommy O’Brien (Bruree) for O’Sullivan (45), S O’Donnell (Kilmallock) for Quaid (55), P Harty (Patrickswell) for Paudie McNamara (57), B Quinn (Ballybrown) for Paul McNamara (60).
WEXFORD: M Fanning; D Kehoe, P Roche, E Doyle; B Hobbs, G Jacob, L Pender; T Mahon (0-1), W Doran; D Nolan (0-2), M O’Regan, H Kehoe (0-1); T Barron, S Banville, J Berry (0-8, 0-6f).
Subs: D Lyng (0-3, 0-1 ‘65) for H Kehoe, M Connors (0-1) for Barron, J Gahan (0-2) for Mahon (all half-time), K Rossiter for Roche, J Kehoe for O’Regan (both 51), Mahon for Banville (55).
Referee: John Sexton (Limerick).