The hurling world is taking Limerick seriously in terms of being contenders in this year’s championship, but Ollie Moran is sounding a note of caution.
The former Limerick star agrees his county is ahead of expectations but points out all teams encounter setbacks and “speed bumps” they must deal with: “You can only go on form, and they beat Tipp by six points. Limerick performed exceptionally well that day, and they also performed well last Saturday (against Cork).
“I think you’re right, they’re ahead of expectations. In Limerick the expectation was that they’d be there or thereabouts — but also that they might be a year or two away from being contenders.
“They’ve surprised a lot of people — within Limerick as well — because there was no question about their quality, but they’ve taken on seasoned teams like Tipp, and comprehensively beaten them, and Cork, who they could and should have beaten in Cork.
“By any stretch of the imagination that’s progress.
“Limerick people are upbeat about them but won’t get carried away. We’ve been there before but this group has a serious pedigree at underage level at colleges, schools, minor, U21. That pedigree wasn’t always there but these players certainly have it.
“I think they still have a bit to go, that said, before being genuine contenders. They’re going to lose games and have speed bumps along the way. Lads will lose form, all of that. But everyone’s positive about them, certainly.”
No wonder with those displays. The number of games suits Limerick, Moran says.
“They have a couple of things going for them. They’re young, they have that pedigree — but they also have a very big squad.
“The format was always going to suit the kind of team where you have young hungry players with plenty of back-up.
“Last year Limerick played Clare and were poor enough, it took a few lads a while to get up to the pitch of the game, then we played Kilkenny below there and did well — but after losing that game they were parked up for the year.
“This year they’re getting regular games and that kind of pressure is off. They’re getting experience, learning — the format is custom-built for Limerick because something they lacked compared to a Tipperary or Cork was that level of experience. Now they’ve learned more in the last two or three weeks than they have in a lifetime’s hurling up to now, and they know they can get out of those situations.”
There’s been a lot of talk about Limerick’s academy and its role in developing players. Moran points out that the academy is part of a wider structure.
“These guys are naturally big, lean, athletic young fellas at 14, 15, but getting exposed to good training methods then rather than 19 or 20 counts.
“They know the right things to do, how to look after themselves. I think Limerick just identified this a little earlier than other counties. The academy structure is very good, but there’s also the club input — the clubs are producing these players.
“The schools are important, and you’re seeing that at Harty level, the universities and colleges in Limerick are feeding in as well.
“There are very good guys involved, the likes of Joe O’Connor and Darragh Droog and others, they’re all top class. It’s no coincidence Limerick are winning at minor and U21 level as well with those lads.
“Also you just have a good demographic right now in Limerick, a lot of good players coming through the system, so all those elements are combining, but they’re in harmony with each other, which is very important.”
Still, there’s the small matter of Waterford tomorrow. “The Limerick curve has been all one way, all upwards, but that doesn’t last forever either. Waterford have been around a while, they’ll have Kevin Moran back and after last Sunday they’ll have more confidence. And they’re more experienced than Limerick — they got to the All-Ireland final last year.
“At some point in the next couple of games Limerick will experience, to use a financial term, a correction of sorts: they’ll have a dip. We’d just be hoping they won’t have two dips in a row. People outside the camp are talking about a Munster final but I think winning a Munster title would be bonus territory. I’d say their goal was to get to the business end of the championship first and foremost.
“What’s going to be interesting is what happens when and if a core of the players have a bad day, because I think you have to go through that to develop as players. That’s not being cute, I just think it’s a natural rhythm for a team — to go up and up and then to stabilise and regroup before going up again. But teams have to learn how to do that.”
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