Munster U21 Hurling Championship
Fair enough, this crop of Limerick youngsters didn’t manage an All-Ireland minor title when they reached the decider three years ago, but their progression is in keeping with the Déise group that romped to All-Ireland U21 glory last September.
That Waterford side featured a plethora of players who had considerable senior inter-county experience under their belt by the time they began their climb to the summit. Austin Gleeson, his namesake Conor and the Bennett brothers, to name but a few.
A quick scroll through Limerick’s starting team for this evening’s Munster U21 quarter-final shows four players who marched behind the band on the afternoon the Treaty County fell to Clare in the Munster SHC semi-final earlier this month. There’s Sean Finn at corner-back, Kyle Hayes at centre-back (he was full-forward for the seniors), Cian Lynch at centre-forward and Peter Casey at top of the right. Introduced off the bench in Thurles were Tom Morrissey, Aaron Gillane, and Barry Nash, all of whom feature this evening. Colin Ryan, who was part of John Kiely’s matchday 26 but did not see action, is named at midfield.
That’s eight U21 players who are considered among the top hurlers in the county. And did we mention Ronan Lynch, he featured in four of their league games back in the spring?
Now, compare this to the Tipperary team, of which no player saw league or championship action under Michael Ryan this year.
There is, of course, a downside to having such a sizeable contingent of your U21 panel involved with the seniors. That is you rarely see them.
“The lads involved with the seniors have been working with them for the past six months or more and we’ve had very little time with them. That can be a negative,” remarked Treaty U21 boss Pat Donnelly.
“We had a couple of challenge matches that they were involved in. We’ve had other matches where two or three of them have come in when they wouldn’t be involved with the senior. This is what happens when you have lads on two panels. We are not using that as an excuse, though.
“It is great that they are involved at senior level and they’ll have learned from the Clare match. They’ll have gained experience from playing in the league against top teams. That’s a big positive. We hope they’ll bring the same enthusiasm to the Gaelic Grounds as they would going in with the seniors.”
Donnelly did not oversee this team three years ago when Kilkenny had their number in the All-Ireland minor final — nine of that side start this evening. He was on the line, however, when Tipperary marked their card in the 2015 and ’16 Munster minor finals, not forgetting last September’s All-Ireland final.
He was also present at Semple Stadium this time last year when Tipp upset the form book in dumping Limerick out of the U21 championship (six of that Tipperary side are again involved).
“Looking back on it, Limerick probably expected to win that game. They just didn’t see it out. Tipperary were hungrier. They wanted it more. You can’t go into any match complacent because you will be caught. There’ll be no fear of complacency on the part of our lads this time. This is a big test for us because Tipperary have come out on top the last few times we met at minor.
“There is expectation inside the county with regard to our own lads given how they went at minor and some of them were involved the following year on the U21 team that won the All-Ireland.
“Three years is a long time in sport so things change. There are no guarantees. We’re lucky that a lot of the 2014 minor side are still involved. That is a good sign.”
B Hogan (Lorrha-Dorrha); P Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), E Moloney (Drom & Inch), K Hassett (Drom & Inch); R Byrne (Portroe), B McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), E Heffernan (Clonoulty-Rossmore); B McCarthy (Thurles Sarsfields), G Browne (Knockavilla Donaskeigh Kickhams); A Coffey (Nenagh Éire Óg), S Quirke (Moyle Rovers), M Kehoe (Kilsheelan-Kilcash); L Fairbrother (JK Brackens), D Gleeson (Ballinahinch), W Connors (Kiladangan) Limerick: E McNamara (Doon), S Finn (Bruff), D Fanning (Pallasgreen), D Joy (Kilmallock); R Lynch (Na Piarsaigh), K Hayes (Kildimo/Pallaskenry), J Adams (Ballybrown); R Hanley (Kilmallock), C Ryan (Pallasgreen); A Gillane (Patrickswell), C Lynch (Patrickswell), T Morrissey (Ahane,); P Casey (Na Piarsaigh), B Nash (South Liberties), B Murphy (Doon).