In the blink of an eye, the memories of Limerick’s incredible All-Ireland triumph start to fade as the 2019 Munster championship roared back into life last weekend. Tipperary picked up a first Munster win since 2016 and Clare continued where they left off last summer with a victory over Waterford.
After opening with a bye week, John Kiely’s All-Ireland winners are back in action this Sunday against Cork on Sunday.
Limerick undoubtedly have a target on their back as the defending All-Ireland champions but have coped admirably since their victory, winning a first league title in 22 years in March.
Before his team is announced at 9pm this evening, John Kiely will have though long and hard about his selection to face Cork in the Munster opener at the Gaelic Grounds on May 20.
Last year a total of 27 of John Kiely’s 36-man panel tasted game time during the championship. However, two of the 26-man panel named for the All-Ireland final clash didn’t feature in any game with Limerick’s strength in depth and competition for places noteworthy throughout the campaign.
This time around John Kiely is working with 35 players, with a couple of new additions and Richie McCarthy who is still rehabbing after suffering a torn cruciate in the club championship.
The new faces are Conor Boylan (Na Piarsaigh), Mikey O’Brien (Doon), Jamie Power (Monaleen) and Kilmallock pair Robbie Hanley and Aaron Costello.
All-Ireland winners from last year Barry O’Connell, Oisin O’Reilly, Lorcan Lyons and Seamus Hickey are no longer with the side for varying reasons.
Throughout the league, Kiely gave plenty of opportunities to the squad to showcase their worth with all of the squad bar Power and McCarthy getting game time during their successful campaign.
However, as the Cork clash looms, it seems more and more likely that Kiely will name the same starting XV that faced Galway in the All-Ireland final last August this Sunday.
In the League semi-final John Kiely named twelve of the starting XV from the Galway game with Declan Hannon, Seamus Flanagan and Mike Casey among the substitutes.
For the final Hannon was returned with Tom Condon and Peter Casey the only players to start against Waterford that didn’t start in Limerick previous encounter in Croke Park.
Tom Condon was back to his best during the league campaign and was man of the match against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in the third round but will have serious competition in withstanding the returning Casey who did so well at full back last year. During the week Kiely also revealed that the Knockaderry man is a slight doubt with a groin strain so Casey should resume his position at the edge of the square.
Casey’s absence in the league saw Sean Finn shifted to full-back with the Bruff man excelling there as he does in the corner. However, his move deprives Kiely the option of having Finn lockdown a dangerous corner forward as he did so often in 2018.
The half-back line picks itself, as do numbers 8-12 with middle eight unit unrivalled in Ireland.
Up front, there seems to be three spots for four players with Peter Casey competing with last years full forward line of Flanagan, Aaron Gillane and Graeme Mulcahy.
Gillane is a shoo-in after being the standout player in the league as is Mulcahy, an All-Sar from last year. As for the final spot in the team, Casey impressed during the league and was fully deserving of his place in the team for the league decider. Yet, Flanagan is such an integral part in Kiely’s system and last year against Cork he almost single handily earned a draw in Pairc UI Chaoimh.
There will be much change on the replacements side of things. The likes of Barry Hennessy, Shane Dowling, William O’Donoghue and David Reidy should be assured of their places after impressing last summer.
However, with Seamus Hickey retired and McCarthy’s injury, there are spaces on the bench for, namely William O’Meara and Aaron Costello who both did well whenever called upon during the spring. Yet, there may only be space for one as Paddy O’Loughlin’s performances for Limerick and UCC over the Spring will surely see him take his place in the matchday 26.
Kevin Downes’ gametime has been limited for his county thus far this year and he may be potentially replaced by a teammate in either David Dempsey or Conor Boylan who was electric in his maiden league campaign.
Barry Nash was another who didn’t play much of the league and so Colin Ryan stands a good chance of coming into the matchday squad with his versatility a huge bonus for Kiely.
There is also a call to be made between Barry Murphy and Pat Ryan with the former scoring against Tipp in the opening round of Munster before Ryan was the hero against Cork in Croke Park.
However, regardless of what team he names, Kiely has shown his undoubted aptitude for the job and has the players to carry out his wishes.
Predicted Limerick team to face Cork in the Munster Hurling Championship
Sean Finn, Mike Casey, Richie English;
Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, Dan Morrissey;
Cian Lynch, Darragh O’Donovan;
Gearoid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes, Tom Morrissey;
Graeme Mulcahy, Seamus Flanagan, Aaron Gillane.
Barry Hennessy, Peter Casey, Tom Condon, Shane Dowling, Colin Ryan*, William O’Meara*, Paddy O’Loughlin*, Conor Boylan*, William O’Donoghue, Dave Reidy, Pat Ryan.
*denotes players who weren’t in the matchday squad for the 2018 All-Ireland final.