Last year they were Munster champions and fancied to overcome a young Clare team. Donach O’Donnell was the Limerick coach and saw the action close up as Clare collected the win.
“They definitely had a different approach,” says O’Donnell.
“They created huge space up front and brought fellas back. Last year we tried to counteract that but they were hitting balls 80, 90 yards from the sidelines, which aren’t really defendable.
“If Tony Kelly is hitting the ball from 80 yards away, and he did it a couple of times right in front of us on the sideline, then that’s hard to counteract.
“They didn’t really have a shot on our goal apart from a high ball that dropped in, so defensively we were well set up, but things went wrong.
“The frees went badly, Seamus Hickey, a very important player for us at wing-forward, was gone after ten minutes, we had a couple of injuries going into it . . . there were a lot of small things went wrong for us going into it. Seven points down at half-time, it was uphill from there on, really.”
Limerick hurling legend Mark Foley has heard the talk that his fellow county men are going to make amends. He has a word of caution about trying to win two games instead of one.
“Sometimes when you lose a big match the subsequent game, the next big game, can become an issue, and this is the team’s next big game in Croke Park since losing to Clare last year.
“Sometimes you can nearly be trying to win two games in one, rather than taking each game on its merits.
“It’s important to realise you can’t change the past — what’s happened has happened and all you can do, really, is take things out of the game you lost that you can improve upon. If you can learn from the past it’s important obviously, but it’s all about the next game.”
Foley acknowledges that Limerick can call on the lessons of 2013 now.
“It was very new for them last year, winning the Munster title, and then, going into the All-Ireland semi-final you were looking at them and thinking of the four teams left they had as good a chance as any of winning the All-Ireland.
“The hype was a factor, not so much in that it got in on them, I think, but simply because it was their first time actually dealing with that level of excitement within the county. That’s been removed this year, though.
“You have to admit that a lot of teams have been through that level of hype themselves in the past and come out the other side and won, but I definitely think it had an effect last year- the team didn’t perform anywhere near the level they could reach. In fact, you could say that Limerick were flattered a little by the scoreline, as Clare were by far the better team on the day.”
O’Donnell agrees that 2013 will stand to the players.
“It’s invaluable. There are now players with Limerick who’ve won a Munster final and lost a Munster final, who’ve been through two huge Munster campaigns.
“The difference is that they’re almost expecting to be there now, to reach Croke Park on a regular basis. Two years ago some of them hadn’t won a championship match in ten years, and had never won a first round game.
“Obviously the step up from never winning a first round game to becoming Munster champions is huge but now they’ve all been through that.”
O’Donnell also points to the continuity in the Limerick preparations.
“The strength and conditioning programme is in its third year there, and the strength element of that is very important. Mark Lyons (Limerick strength and conditioning coach) has been there a couple of years, as has the dietitian, Catherine Norton, and that kind of continuity is very important.
“From that point of view they’re in very good shape. If you change the strength and conditioning coach or programme every year, then the players may not establish a good base. Limerick have that now, their diet and physical conditioning are very good now and have been for some time.
“A strength and conditioning guy who works with the coach and the manager on the field, that means there are three voices — if the strength and conditioning guy is on his own for a long time, it can be repetitive for the players.”
Limerick swept Wexford away in their previous game, of course. Foley sees value in the encounter, despite it being so one-sided: “I think it was a very good match to get, because having lost the Munster final you’d want to get back on the horse anyway, and having a game two weeks afterwards is great.
“The important thing for Limerick this Sunday is that while the Wexford game was no real match as such, it was important that Declan Hannon played well, and that the half-back line stood up as well.
“I know it was no real test but it’s important that they’re going into Sunday’s game with that bit of confidence. There might still be questions there, but it was a good win to get and not to have the same weaknesses we saw in the Munster final exposed again. In that case the confidence would have been brittle enough.”
O’Donnell saw grounds for optimism as well in the Shannonsiders’ performance.
“I think they were going into that with a point to prove after the Munster final,” he says.
“The conditioning was great, they were really focused, and though Wexford were slightly off the pace, Limerick were ready to go — mentally they were switched on and it all flowed from there. They were very impressive.”
They certainly should be switched on tomorrow: Foley says the novelty of playing in Croke Park soon evaporates, and the absence of hype this year should also help.
“Every individual is different but what I found was the novelty factor was gone once you’d played in Croke Park once. All the sideshows were gone, if there were any. Those were all forgotten about and it was all about the game.
“There shouldn’t be any distractions for Limerick tomorrow, definitely, no excuses. They’ve all played there before and at this stage they’d be expected to perform, and I’d be very confident that they would perform.
“Obviously if Limerick had performed last year against Clare nobody would be blaming the hype there was in the county beforehand, but now, because they’ve played in Croke Park on a big day, the novelty shouldn’t be a factor for them.
“Obviously you need to enjoy it as well, balancing that with your preparation but it’s all about performing at the end of the day.”
When you mention to Donach O’Donnell that Kilkenny will probably be favourites tomorrow, he’s unequivocal. “It’s ideal, really, to be underdogs.
“Last year Limerick weren’t given a chance, the same this year against Tipperary. The big thing is how they’ll set up. If they can cut down on the space Kilkenny create, that’ll help them hugely. So will a situation where they’re not dropping high balls down on JJ Delaney and Brian Hogan — or any of the Kilkenny backs — and letting Kilkenny backs slow it down and cut off the space.
“They love that kind of game and if Limerick let them play it then they’ll struggle.”
Mark Foley went to both Kilkenny-Galway games in Tullamore. He doesn’t doubt the quality in black and amber.
“At those games you could see that there was plenty more in the tank, but until you see that in evidence you can only judge what you can see.
“They’re probably not what they were but they’re still strong, obviously. There are areas that I’m sure Limerick will try to exploit, but whether Limerick can do that or not is another thing.
“The big question in Limerick is whether our half-backs can stand up to it; if they do and we’re still in the running with 15, 20 minutes to go then I give us a great chance.
“It’s simple when you say it like that but it’s different when you’re playing.”