Cregan, who recently guided Mary Immaculate College to their first Fitzgibbon Cup title, said Limerick must show an improvement of “75% to 80%” in their performance from the defeat to Clare if they are to avoid a third consecutive competition exit to Dublin having lost to them at the same stage last year followed by the qualifier defeat.
The 1973 All-Ireland winner has questioned the tactics that have been applied in the county for the last six seasons. “It doesn’t suit Limerick. How do I put it? The players must use their intelligence themselves. If they have to stick to the dogma of holding onto the ball and having to run with the ball, they will continue to lose games.
“I’ve said it before but I’d hate to be playing in the Limerick forwards at the moment because you don’t know when the ball is going to come in. When it does come in, it’s too slow and the backs have all the time in the world to settle. We’re playing a game that suits the opposition when we should be operating a more direct style where our forwards are actually at an advantage.
“It changed when Donal O’Grady came in and it hasn’t changed since then. If we could only stop this bloody hand-passing out of the defence! There is a time when you hand-pass and there is a time when you clear but you clear with purpose.”
The lack of a coherent game strategy troubles Cregan ahead of Limerick’s trip to Parnell Park. “There were an awful lot of Limerick people who attended the Clare game that were disappointed with the performance. They didn’t seem to be any plan nor any attempt to counteract the plan Clare had put together and that’s what worries me against Dublin because they have been coming along nicely under Ger Cunningham and Parnell Park is a tight pitch as we all know.
“Limerick will have to up their performance by 75% to 80% if they are going to win. The full-back line were extremely weak, the half-back line disappointing. At centre-field, we were okay and the forwards didn’t get proper ball. Declan Hannon shouldn’t be at full- forward but in the corner. Limerick should look at what he did in that position in the Fitzgibbon Cup final when he scored 1-12.”
Cregan does have great faith in the attitude of the county’s up-and-coming players. “We can’t talk about getting out of the second division if the effort isn’t there. Supporters are going to games hoping for great things and are being disappointed time after time. Unless players have the right attitude, we won’t be going anywhere. The younger players have it; it’s the older players I would question.”
But for all the promise Limerick hurling is showing at the moment in the form of the successes of the Limerick U21s, Mary Immaculate, Na Piarsaigh and Ard Scoil Rís, Cregan sees a worrying trend of rudimentary mistakes from the county’s teams.
“Everybody would assume based on these performances there are a group of lads coming through and they are but the guys on the team at the moment aren’t performing. It’s time we played hurling the way it should be played. The performance against Dublin this time last year was atrocious. The performance against Clare the last day was atrocious. Some players played well but as a team it wasn’t up to scratch.
“The Clare forward (John Conlon) fouled by taking 10 steps for the first goal but I’m using that as an excuse. It was a basic defensive error by the full-back line that allowed him to catch the ball.
“The same thing happened for Ard Scoil Rís — trying to block the ball out with one hand. It happened to Na Piarsaigh with the two Cushendall goals. Basic errors and nobody sorting it out. Those goals should never have been scored. We have this idea we can block with one hand when having two hands on the hurley is an awful lot stronger.”
Cregan accepts the return of the Na Piarsaigh players for Saturday will boost Limerick — “a little bit of a bounce” — but recent displays in TJ Ryan’s time in charge don’t inspire him. “I don’t like criticising managers but the performances have been extremely poor.
“Since we were beaten in the Munster final two years ago, we’ve stayed in the second division and last year we were beaten early in both the Munster and All-Ireland championship.
“It’s time for everybody to up their performances and that goes across the board.”