TJ Ryan has welcomed back the Na Piarsaigh players after their successful All-Ireland club campaign, but you couldn’t blame him for wishing he’d seen them a bit earlier in the season. His Limerick side didn’t get out of Division 1B, and the likes of Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling, and Ronan Lynch would surely have made a difference for them.
“We could have badly done with them, obviously they’re a very strong club and we could have done with them in the league.
“Now that they’re back, though, there’s a triple benefit — they’re back as winners, there’s a boost to the squad, and there’s so many of them, it’s bound to help. There are a lot of positives to it, to having them back. Certainly having them come back as club champions, that’s been a huge boost.” They also bring plenty of experience, particularly after collecting an All-Ireland title in Croke Park.
“They do, a lot of them would have come up with Ardscoil Rís so there’s a good tradition there, all the way up. Certainly they’ve brought a freshness to the thing, and we got a good result the last day, which proves it.”
That result was against Dublin in Parnell Park, which must have been gratifying for Ryan, given the disappointment of their loss the previous day.
“It was, if you take that game and where we were coming from before it, when we had another disappointing season, not getting out of Division 1B, and the loss to Clare.
“Looking back at that (Clare) game, you were thinking that whatever could go wrong did go wrong — we didn’t start well, we had a player sent off — it was one of those days. The league campaign was always going to come down to just one day, and when it did come down to that day, we just didn’t fire and we didn’t get what we wanted. It was disappointing, and we had to respond, and in fairness to them, they responded in a major way against Dublin. The fact we’d had the previous game against Clare, that we wanted to get out of 1B and hadn’t, the disappointment of all that... the league is a national campaign, it’s a big competition — Limerick haven’t been in a league semi-final in 10 years, and we wanted to make a statement.
“The previous year we had struggled against Dublin in the quarter-final, so it was a big game for us. There was pressure, and to come out with the result we did was great.” Afterwards, of course, Ryan had a cut off some pundits, describing them as vultures. That’s “done and dusted” now: “It’s a pressure job — I knew that. It’s a results game, and I knew that too. You can see what pressure did to poor old Jordan Spieth last weekend! Internally and externally we also probably created pressure for ourselves with the 1B-1A thing, and I just felt we were going well. Unfortunately there are a couple of guys here, and whether it’s personal or not, I don’t know, but that’s how it comes out. We try to ignore it as best we can and drive on, it was just a bit of a rant. Done and dusted now.”
He acknowledges the level of scrutiny and analysis is massively higher than in his own playing days. “It is, and the current format of the league is also very cutthroat, which seems to be working well for the GAA. You look at Galway’s situation in 1A and you’d say they did reasonably well, yet they got relegated. Cork won no games yet stayed up, which shows how close the margins are. In Division 1B we’ve only lost two games in three years — to Clare and Offaly, both games in which we had players sent off. You wouldn’t think it from the coverage, which is always about Limerick’s disappointments in 1B, though having said that, we’ve been trying to get out and we haven’t done it, so that disappointment is going to be there until we do.” And tomorrow?
Ryan points out that Limerick were one of the first sides to see the Waterford system.
“We were one of the first to play against that when we played them in the league last year. They’ve got some fantastic players, they have that system and they’re all very comfortable playing it, they’re difficult to break down... in one league game this year, Kilkenny only got 10 points against them, which tells you everything.
“That said, we had a good win the last day, the Piarsaigh lads are back, there’s a bit of a buzz back in the camp and a chance to get to a national final. The system will be difficult to break down but we look forward to the challenge.”
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