It’s questionable if Limerick supporters will be too enamoured by John Kiely’s talk of “small steps”.
The Treaty County open their Munster campaign this weekend, with Kiely, 10 months into his tenure as senior boss, expected to field an extremely young side for the clash with Clare. Five players — Kyle Hayes, Ronan Lynch, the Casey brothers (Mike and Peter), and David Dempsey — are in line to make their championship debuts. Three of this group are U21, while the other two were eligible for the grade last year.
Then, there are the likes of Cian Lynch, Barry Nash, and Tom Morrissey, all of whom are still U21 and who could see game-time at Thurles. In Lynch’s case, that’s a given. Factor in, too, Richie English, who will figure in defence and, with midfielder William O’Donoghue ruled out through injury, Darragh O’Donovan and Pat Ryan are not far off the top of the queue for inclusion. None of the last three are more than 22 years old.
This explains why Kiely talks about “small steps”? He also mentions “consistency” and attempting to blend the experienced with the not-so-experienced. This is a young Limerick panel and followers of the green and white must be cognisant of this.
Patience, though, is threadbare. As former hurler Stephen McDonagh stressed on these pages yesterday, they’ve been patient since 1973. McDonagh understands this is a young Limerick side, but pointed to the performance of Cork’s debutants during their 2-27 to 1-26 win over Tipperary a fortnight ago.
“There is a burning desire within Limerick for success,” Kiely acknowledged. “There is a massive sense of ambition within our group to achieve success... When that transpires, we will have to wait and see. We don’t see any reason why it can’t happen. We saw Clare win an All-Ireland in 2013 with a very young team. We need to take small steps and find consistency in our performance.”
They didn’t stumble upon much of it in the spring. Promotion to the top tier was beyond them as early as the opening weekend, after they fell to Wexford. They stuttered past Offaly and lost at home to Galway twice in the space of a month. The league semi-final no-show — in which they mustered a measly 1-11 — was particularly galling.
“We would be disappointed with one or two performances, particularly the one against Galway in the semi-final,” Kiely said.
Mind you, the westerners’ subsequent routing of Tipperary cast an altogether different light on their 10-point dismissal of Limerick.
“Seeing them win the league as they did, didn’t ease the pain of our semi-final defeat, but it brought more understanding as to where Galway are at. I think every manager would like to see the [Galway] template in their team; hard working, fantastic age-profile, very physical, very skilful, very mobile and great team play.”
He feels his own group is a work in progress.
“You have to look at the resources in terms of players and what is their best area to contribute to the team. It takes a bit of time for them to understand what is their role within the team and what they have to do to contribute most to the team. From the management side, finding the best role for each individual and maximising that role for each individual takes time, as does building up trust and understanding. With some managers, they go in, it is one individual and they call the shots from the top down. It is their way or the highway.
“My style is a consensus approach, tapping into the various people who are involved with us, trying to harness their experience, their knowledge and find a common path forward as a team. We feel we are reaching that, at the moment.”
This summer’s Munster championship is to be the last in its current guise. The replacement model is expected to incorporate a home-and-away format. Kiely likes the soundings coming from Croke Park.
“It would be fantastic. The more games, the better. The less time off, the better. So long as the club scene isn’t compromised. It has been great for the lads to go back to their clubs between the league and championship. The lads loved that. Your club is your home.
“Having four or five weeks to prepare for a game isn’t great. Players want to play matches. It would be fantastic for utilising greater numbers of players during the season. It would be a test of the depth of inter-county panels. It would harness the championship in a more meaningful fashion for all the counties and would draw more people into the matches.”
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