7th February 2016. Limerick vs Longford in Pearse Park. I still remember to this day how cold it was; one of those occasions where you just wanted it over with. And the more you tried to warm up the colder you felt. The conditions were brutal. It was as much a mental challenge as anything else.
We found ourselves five points up with 18 minutes to play. The mind starts to think “maybe this is all worth it.” We didn’t score again for the rest of the game. Longford reeled off seven points and we lost by two.
On the way home, the mind began to ask, “maybe this isn’t all worth it.”
The previous week against Tipperary we had lost a four-point lead down the stretch but managed to salvage a draw. On the long journey back from the midlands, we should have been sitting pretty in the league table on four points. But only had the solitary point to show for our efforts.
The next game out was against Clare. We had a few weeks to lick our wounds and prepare for it. What sort of reaction would there be to the fact that we had let leads slip? Had we been able to move on from the disappointments.
The answer was emphatic. Clare had the game put to bed by halftime. We wouldn’t register another point in the league from the remaining games.
We never recovered.
This current Limerick team are better than that 2016 version. There are some players that were around back then that have matured and improved. A lot of players in the current group are in their prime or approaching it. And physically there is no comparison.
But for all that, where the mind goes, the body will follow. And where are the heads at after the loss at the weekend?
It was a game Limerick should have won. They had recovered from the early concession of a sloppy goal and finished out the first half on top. A slow start to second half wasn’t as costly on the scoreboard. And when Hugh Bourke finished to the net after a fantastic fetch and pass from Josh Ryan, Limerick were up and running and held a five-point lead with 15 minutes to play.
What followed was almost a perfect storm – literally at times – for Louth.
The elements picked up at the worst possible time, making it very hard for Limerick to even see past their own 45m line. A couple of calls also went against them during this period. But a lot of this stuff was out of their control.
What will really disappoint Billy Lee and his management was the things that were in players control. Handpasses going astray. Not enough support for the player on the ball. Players taking too many plays, against a Louth team who were very good at pressing the ball carrier and not being clinical in front of goal.
Limerick were able to manage their scoring droughts in the previous league games by controlling possession. In the face of stormy conditions, this was always going to be a dangerous game to play. Scores needed to be tapped when on offer. A harsh lesson to learn.
There were no excuses from Billy Lee in his post-match interview. You could see the disappointment at not seeing it out. It was far from a vintage performance from Limerick. But they had put themselves in a winning position and hadn’t seen it through. If you had offered the group four points from their opening three games at the start of the league, they may well have taken it.
How they have ended up there now will sting though.
The question is what sort of reaction there will be.
Our group in 2016 didn’t have enough character to bounce back. We found it hard to move on from “what should have been” to “what was still possible.”
The overall performance against Louth was below par. But still had them in a winning position. It showed that they could also come from behind in a game, having led from pillar to post in the opening two games.
And even in terrible conditions, Limerick were again able to create multiple goal scoring opportunities.
A trip to a no doubt windy Aughrim awaits next weekend. Wicklow will have seen what worked for Louth and attempt the same.
Limerick will look to right some wrongs. Physically they should be good to go. And once the mind is right, the body will follow. They have shown enough in the last couple of years to say that the character is there.
Saturday will be another test of that. Next ball mentality needed. They have come too far to allow it to slip away without a serious fight.