Ciarán Carey has traced the Limerick hurlers’ promising championship form to their league performances.
The men in green and white beat Tipperary with something to spare in their first-round meeting and the Limerick icon feels there’s more in his countymen.
“I wasn’t that surprised when I sized up their league performances, particularly against opponents they’d have found it hard to beat in past years,” says Carey.
“The big thing for me in the league was that they were beating those kinds of teams with a bit more ease, which suggested they were more focused.
“I wasn’t surprised by the way they went against Tipperary — I thought they were only going about 60%, that there’s more in them, but you have to take each game as it comes, on its merits, when it comes to preparation.”
The two-week break may have dampened down the hype and allowed manager John Kiely focus on the panel.
“It’s not something Limerick did, that happened by default — a good few teams will have to go three weeks in a row, and for me injuries are key.
"Thankfully there were no serious injuries, either — something like a dead leg takes maybe a week to get right, so that’s where the importance of a good squad comes in.
“It’s going down the road of rugby, where you need a big squad, and Limerick have that. Now the Tipp game is out of the way, done and dusted, so they can focus on Cork.
“Personally I remember the only times we had match after match really was with the club, in the Munster club championship.
“It’s no harm if you’re winning, but it’s obviously a lot harder to manage if you start losing.
“Then it becomes very difficult to manage the preparation.”
A lot of credit has been given to the Limerick Academy for bringing through the promising youngsters now starring for the county.
“In terms of physical conditioning, say, they’ve been at it since the age of 16, so they’re definitely reaping rewards.
“I think Limerick are probably ahead of a lot of intercounty teams in terms of development and conditioning.
“In football, everyone looks at Dublin in terms of resources, strength, size — I think Limerick could be at the top on the hurling side in that area.
“Someone like Mark Coleman of Cork is a beautiful hurler, and I was thinking of him standing alongside someone like Cian Lynch, who’d be twice his size physically.
“He and Darragh Fitzgibbon are two beautiful hurlers, but just physically Limerick players seem stronger. The conveyor belt is always going in Cork, there are always stylish hurlers.
“But if you look at the Limerick half-forward line, Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, Tom Morrissey, they’re 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, while inside them Aaron Gillane is 6-2, Seamus Flanagan 6-2 — Graeme Mulcahy isn’t as big but the way he played against Tipp was the best championship hurling I’ve seen from him in five or six years.
“Limerick won’t mind going one on one, but Cork will be cleverer than that. Cork will work on speed and tactically they’ll need to get it right on the day.”
For all that, Carey sees areas where Limerick need to improve: “They’re far from the finished article. Seamus Hickey didn’t have a great day at the office the last day, giving away some frees and there’s still a bit of tightening up in the defence.
“Kyle Hayes is doing well at centre-forward but I’d love to see him in the number three jersey, to stay there for about 10 years, because I can see him commanding the square there.
“It takes time, he’s doing a job up at centre-forward at the moment as well.”
He’s optimistic, however, about their prospects: “They’re going well — I’d nearly say it could be their year this year, but it’ll have to go game by game. It’ll take a fair team to beat them.
“They’re definitely on the right road, and there’s a good bit more in them based on the Tipp game. There’s good strength in depth, not just in the 26 lads togged out but in the extra five or six.
“Against Tipp, Kevin Downes didn’t make the 26 — Barry Nash, Tom Condon, they didn’t make it either and they’d push for places with a lot of county teams.
“The expectation has to be managed, too. I think the format suits, however, because every match is a cup match, if you like.
“Expectations might be high among the public in Limerick but those might have affected past squads more.
“This squad is different. It’s managed differently. There’s more awareness of the pitfalls, more discussion of that, and certainly, preparation-wise they’re well placed to deal with that.
“The one area where I give Cork a chance, if they get it right tactically, is in manipulating space. If they go toe to toe, it wouldn’t suit them, but having said that, while strength and size are important, hurling ability is something you can’t buy.”
Ciarán Carey and Diarmuid O’Sullivan will host the Bord Gáis Energy Rewards Tour at Páirc Uí Chaoimh today ahead of Cork v Limerick in round three of the Munster Hurling Championship.
The Páirc Uí Chaoimh Tour is just one of the unmissable GAA experiences available to Bord Gáis Energy Rewards Club customers this summer.
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