Five standouts from Limerick’s Munster Hurling League campaign

John Kiely used just three of the All-Ireland three-in-a-row winning XV during the Munster Hurling League.

The second trip to Cork this year is in store for the Limerick Senior Hurlers this weekend as the all-conquering All-Ireland champions kickstart their League campaign.

The Munster Hurling League has come and gone and for the first time since 2019, Limerick weren’t crowned the pre season champions.

It will matter little to John Kiely nonetheless who used the league to blood a number of new players. In fact, he used just four players that featured in last July’s All-Ireland final in Dan Morrissey, Darragh O’Donovan, Tom Morrissey and David Reidy.

Many of the frontline players are expected to return to the fold for the Rebels this weekend but ahead of that game we look at five players that put their hand up during pre season.

Fergal O’Connor

Full back on the Limerick U20s side that reached the All-Ireland final in 2022, Fergal O’Connor has made a seamless transtition into John Kiely’s senior ranks. Such were his performances under Diarmuid Mullins last summer, O’Connor was drafted into the senior panel after the 20s season concluded, winning a maiden All-Ireland medal.

That experience has stood to him as he hit the ground running in his debut appearances for Limerick this January, starting both of their Munster Hurling League games. His versatility saw him in the corner for both encounters and he didn’t look a bit out of place with impressive displays in both.

He is a prototype modern defender, as comfortable with possession as he is man-marking. For his club he is often preferred out the field, generally in midfield where he has a keen eye for a score. He faces unreal competition for a place in the Limerick full back line but the early indications have been hugely positive.

David McCarthy

When Barry Hennessy announced his retirement from the intercounty game in December, it opened up the position for Limerick’s back up goalkeeper with the Kilmallock native keeping the pressure on Nickie Quaid during his rise to being lauded as one of, if not the best in the game.

With the Effin man rested for the Munster Hurling League, David McCarthy was entrusted with the #1 jersey as he solidified himself as the back up to Quaid. He was solid in both with the year experience back in the squad bringing his game on tenfold, namely with his puckouts. There was no denying his shot-stopping ability as he demonstrated for the Limerick U21s on their run to the All-Ireland title in 2015. Since then he has improved his restarts considerably, a key aspect of the Limerick game plan.

Monaleen’s All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Jamie Power has been added to the squad in the meantime and made his debut as a substitute for McCarthy against Kerry but for now it’s the Glenroe man who will be in the matchday squad come the championship.

Shane O’Brien

22 January 2023; Shane O’Brien of Limerick in action against Morgan Madden of Kerry during the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League Group 2 match between Kerry and Limerick at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Kerry. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

Few that saw the Kilmallock man operate in the underage ranks would have been surprised by his transition into adult hurling, starting with the club championship last Autumn. In his debut he hit 1-3 from play against Patrickswell and followed that up by tormenting the eventual champions Na Piarsaigh.

An injury hampered the rest of his LSHC campaign but there was little surprise when he was added to the Limerick senior hurling panel in just his second year out of the U17 ranks. O’Brien is built like a man well beyond his teenage years and he showed that in his debut as he took on Rob Downey, an experienced intercounty defender, picking off a pair of brilliant points as well as winning a number of frees.

He made a scoring cameo from the bench against Kerry and it looks like he will get plenty of game time in the League as one of the leading contenders to break into the championship squad.

Mark Quinlan

The Garryspillane native has been a part of the Limerick panel for the most part since being selected in his final year with the U20s. A back to back premier minor winner with his club, Quinlan was also imperious for Garryspillane as they won the premier intermediate championship in 2018. He was part of the All-Ireland winning squads in 2020 and 2021 but had to leave the panel last year owing to injury.

Named from the start in Limerick’s Munster Hurling League opener in 2022, Quinlan would only last eight minutes where he was forced off through injury. He wouldn’t play again for the county as they went on to complete a three in a row of All-Ireland titles.

But he has firmly put that disappointment behind him with two dominant displays in the Munster Hurling League, starting both games. Against Cork he was confident in possession, supporting all around him as an always willing option. The following week against Kerry he showed his penchant for a score with three long-range efforts. And that is sure to ring in the mind of John Kiely when he faces the dilemma of replacing Diarmaid Byrnes for the early part of the League.

Right now, Quinlan alongside Colin Coughlan are in the driving seat for that #5 jersey with little doubting the formers ability if chosen.

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Ciaran Barry

First appearing on the Limerick teamsheet last March ahead of their final League game against Offaly, Ciaran Barry’s path, like a number on the current panel was backed by Fitzgibbon Cup performances. The Ahane native won a couple of All-Ireland intermediate titles with UL before starting for the UCC in last year’s Fitzgibbon Cup. Following that he was drafted into the senior Limerick set up, winning a maiden All-Ireland.

However, he had to bide his time in pulling on the greeen jersey as he made his debut against Cork in the first round of this year’s pre season competition. Named at wing back, Barry kept it simple as Limerick fell to a narrow defeat. He began the Kerry game at wing back but reverted to the corner in the second period after Colin Coughlan’s introduction. Again, the Ahane native was solid in his performance, showing an ability to adapt.

That versatility is a staple of the Limerick squad with Kyle Hayes and Cian Lynch both winning All-Stars in different positions while Barry Nash has transitioned back to corner back to devastating effect. And this makes Barry a useful option for Kiely as a kind of swiss army knife heading into a hectic number of months.

Limerick play Cork in the first round of the National Hurling League this Saturday at 7.30pm in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

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