Can things go too well, too early? It’s a question Limerick aren’t used to, but Mark Foley doesn’t think it’s an issue. Sure, the All-Ireland champions may have failed to win their last two Division 1A round games, but the blip against Cork could be forgiven, while taking a point from Ennis was satisfactory.
The two wins that have followed those games, but particularly the three that preceded them, indicate Limerick to be in fine fettle and Foley doesn’t see his county dipping. “There are two things in Limerick’s favour,” says the two-time All-Star. “Number one is their age profile. It’s suited towards holding a peak for a more sustained period than if they were on the road a lot longer. Number two, is the fact they have serious competition for places, so nobody can be complacent. At this stage of their development, it wouldn’t be an issue say to five years down the road when it would be a different story.”
The half-back line was their power source last year, though John Kiely has tinkered with it a little this spring, putting in the likes of Paddy O’Loughlin, Mikey O’Brien, and Barry Nash. Captain Declan Hannon might return from injury to start this weekend and William O’Donoghue is on the mend.
One of the best wing-backs of his generation, Foley is glad that Limerick have back-up in that area and he has been impressed by O’Loughlin. “He’s done well. I saw him against Clare and the last day against Dublin and he seems to have fitted in fairly seamlessly.
“There seems to be good strength in depth there and with the way the championship is gone, you’re going to pick up more injuries, so it’s very important you have depth. Paddy has hardly put a foot wrong and he stood out with UCC in the Fitzgibbon Cup as well. He’s not been out of place in the matches to date, but like every year, championship asks different questions, but Paddy has jumped all the fences he’s had to jump.
“The last few years a lot of emphasis has been put on tactics, but what it boils down to is having a half-back line that gets on top and that’s what wins the games. They’ll be looking for similar this year whoever is there and they have options.”
Foley can see only two or three changes to last year’s team when Limerick host Cork (May 19) and they aren’t on their own 45-metre line.
“What they will be, I don’t know, but Mike Casey mightn’t have enough game-time coming back in and Tom Condon has ticked all the boxes this year. The last day, there were issues in the half-forward line and they might look at them and Peter Casey has done well to date, having had an injury-free run behind him. They’d be the only areas I’d see changing."
If Foley does have one concern, it’s that other than Dublin this past weekend, he hasn’t seen too many teams shape themselves to negate Limerick.
“It’s anyone’s guess how Munster is going to go, but a lot of Limerick’s strength is based on a system they play to, and I haven’t seen teams trying to really counter and break that down.
“Perhaps they’re keeping their powder dry for the championship, but last weekend was the first time I saw a team with Limerick in mind trying to do something to unhinge them and maybe Waterford will do that this weekend and give us an idea as to how teams will prepare for the Limerick challenge in the summer. When Limerick lose the ball, they almost have 11 defenders behind the ball and yet they’re ready to break at pace and their conditioning is good that they’re able to up and down the field, even though they’re defending very deep. It’s a code that has to be cracked but if it’s going to be done it’ll be in the championship.”
Foley also sees Limerick’s final stretch in the Munster SFC — three games in 14 days — posing a test. It begins with a visit to Walsh Park on June 2 against Sunday’s Division 1 final opponents Waterford.
“You’d wonder how teams will be and how they approach the championship to keep them fresh. There are a few lessons to be learned, three games in a row, and obviously the first of them in Walsh Park is potentially huge for both sides. Both might have to win there and it makes this Sunday’s game more intriguing because it gives Waterford the chance to look at Limerick.”
Meanwhile, Limerick have brought former Galway defender Tony Óg Regan on board as their performance coach. Like Caroline Currid in 2010 who he now replaces in Kiely’s backroom team, Regan was involved with Tipperary when they claimed an All-Ireland title in ’16.