With 2021 firmly in the rearview window, the brief window of rest afforded to the Limerick intercounty teams comes to an end in the coming weeks with the return of the McGrath and Munster Hurling Cups.
After the postponement of those competitions last year, Limerick will enter both as defending champions after capturing the titles on the same evening in the Gaelic Grounds in January 2020.
Billy Lee’s footballers are up first as they travel to the Kingdom to take on Kerry on Wednesday January 5 in the McGrath Cup. They then welcome Tipperary to Mick Neville Park on Sunday in their second round game.
Lee has named an experimental looking side for the contest with plenty of new faces embedded throughout. Galtee Gaels Maurice O’Sullivan is rewarded for his fine club form with a place in the full back line with Jim Liston making a first start in a number of years.
After helping Kildimo Pallaskenry to the senior ranks, Peter Nash and Tony McCarthy are both named from the start with teammate Liam O’Sullivan among the substitutes.
Dara Noonan makes his first ever start for Limerick alongside Gerald Griffins teammates Liston and Colm McSweeney.
Elsewhere, Darragh Ranahan (Ballysteen), John Hayes (St Kierans), and Rory O’Brien (Fr Caseys) are named in their first intercounty squad after impressing in the SFC.
Those new players will look to fill the void after a number of departures from the squad were confirmed with Danny Neville, Tommie Childs, Seamus O’Carroll, David Connolly, Ger Stack, Padraig Scanlon and Comac Roche all unavailable to Billy Lee and his side.
Nonetheless, one mans loss is another mans gain and that will be the hope for Lee and co who have clearly looked for an infusion of youth into a relatively settled squad.
Kerry and Tipperary will give a huge indication as to who is ready for the rigours of the intercounty scene with Longford in the league opener scheduled for the last Sunday of the month.
Elsewhere, John Kiely’s All-Ireland champions will return to action on January 14 when they welcome the winners of Tipperary and Kerry in the Munster Hurling Cup semi-final.
Kiely’s men have won the competition in two of the past three years, going on to win the All-Ireland on both occasions.
The Galbally native has yet to reveal his cards in terms of squad selections but there are sure to be a number of new faces added to allow for freshness among the back to back All-Ireland champions.
Last year, Colin Coughlan, Cathal O’Neill, Thomas Hayes and Barry Murphy were all called up to the senior squad. Hayes and Murphy were particularly impressive for Doon in their march to the 2020 SHC final with Kilmallock duo Micheal Houlihan and Oisin O’Reilly likely to follow suit after their Munster final this weekend.
Teammates Liam English and Ciaran O’Connor could also be in line for call ups after impressing with the Balbec.
Elsewhere, Doon’s Adam English is poised for the senior intercounty ranks alongside a number of his U20 teammates who helped Limerick to the Munster final last summer.
The addition of those players will boost an already star studded squad that contains a pair of Hurler of the Year recipients and seventeen All-Stars.
For Kiely, one area that will demand attention is that of the number 15 jersey with Peter Casey out with an ACL injury. Graeme Mulcahy, who wore the jersey with aplomb for so many years, is the obvious replacement but the likes of O’Neill, Pat Ryan and possibly English will have their say.
It is an intriguing conundrum for Kiely and his management team and the Munster cup will provide the first glimpse into how they will approach it with Wexford awaiting in the league on February 6.
It remains to be seen who can make their mark for the footballers or hurlers but one thing is for sure however, the intercounty season is well and truly back.