Maybe it’s because he’s been here before. Maybe it’s the defender in him. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s as no-nonsense with his words as he was with his hurling but Wayne McNamara isn’t getting carried away with Limerick’s spring so far.
Tomorrow: Pearse Stadium 2.30pm
Referee: C. McAllister, Cork
Bet: Galway 8/15 Limerick 15/8 Draw 9/1
Of course, he’s excited. “It’s hard not to be” he admits.
“They’ve won two U21s, Harty Cups and a lot of lads have been involved in the Fitzgibbon wins. You take Cian Lynch and that crew, they’re probably the most successful under-age group that Limerick has ever produced in terms of they have everything. They have so many medals and the quality is there. Sunday is a big test for them. Last year, they fell down badly. I have to stress they haven’t been tested. We’ll know more at four o’clock on Sunday.”
To most people, the fact that Limerick travel to Salthill tomorrow knowing a draw will see them return to the top flight for the first time since 2010 is an incredible achievement given John Kiely has had to plan without the 10 Na Piarsaigh players called up in November.
McNamara has a beef with the GAA as regards how they have altered the calendar but that Limerick have been without their senior club champion representatives isn’t one of them.
“A calendar year would have aided Limerick in the league (this year) but what has happened is a good complaint to have. If your team is competing in the league and you have a team in the All-Ireland club final ..... sure these are first world problems.
“It is unfortunate for the Na Piarsaigh players and John Kiely but it would be a lot worse if we had no team on St Patrick’s Day and were going poorly in the league.”
Besides, with Limerick facing four games in five weeks over May and June, the need to cultivate a panel is greater than ever. Division 1B is an appropriate environment achieve that goal but McNamara is reticent about joining the chorus who predict the county will challenge for honours this season.
“When the Na Piarsaigh lads come back you’ll probably have two, three or four of them in the team but in this day and age if you can’t replace that number on a team then you don’t have any squad.
“There are good young fellas coming through and there will be serious competition for places but I don’t think Limerick have been challenged too much yet. Dublin are going through a bit of a change. Offaly are a small bit rejuvenated but that will take time. Laois have lost a lot of lads over the last few years as have Antrim so Limerick have basically not been tested.”
McNamara was famed for the steel he brought to the county half-back line, a characteristic synonymous with Limerick hurling. But from what he has seen of the team - and the game of hurling in general - he wonders if such physicality is as necessary as it once was.
“Teams find their own systems and structures. Maybe the game has changed over the last year or two where it’s not as physical as maybe before. Teams are now looking at each other so much and trying to exploit them, taking lads out of positions and creating space.
“The game is slightly less physical but you still need that and as this team is developing that will take time. It might take a few low days to try and generate that, to bottle the anger and the aggression and make lads realise how much it means to them. That’s where you get it. When you have a couple of bad days, it makes you want it more.”
Having announced his inter-county retirement in late 2016, McNamara never got the opportunity to play in the same line for Limerick as his Adare club man Declan Hannon who has since been shifted by Kiely from the forwards to the No6 role.
The move didn’t surprise McNamara knowing Hannon for the all-round hurler he is. “Deccy’s a fantastic hurler. Sometimes, he’s a joy to watch. His technique is perfect. I’m a clubman of his so I’m biased but I’m happy for him and delighted he’s there. Hopefully, he can settle into that role because it takes time. You need to be stubborn to do that but he’s playing well.
“The game has changed over the last two years and teams look to drag you from that position whereas before you could sit in a hole there. It’s a very difficult position to play than it was six or seven years ago but he’s a fantastic hurling brain and his ability is unquestionable.”
Hannon was just 18 and McNamara 25 when they featured on the Limerick team that beat Clare in the 2011 Division 2 final in Ennis to gain promotion only for it to be later marked null and void by a league rejig. Is this Limerick’s best chance yet of ending that stretch? McNamara can’t say.
“I never thought we would still be in 1B at this stage but then we’ve had a few chances along the way and messed them up unfortunately. “We’re all hoping Sunday can prove a better result.”
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