Talking Points | English lays down a marker, Limerick add more silverware & More

Limerick proved far too good for the Banner in capturing the Munster Hurling Cup at the weekend.

The more things change, the more they stay the same and for Limerick on Sunday, with a relatively experimental side, it was business as usual as they claimed the first pice of silverware on offer this year.

A 0-28 to 0-17 win over Clare in Ennis secured the Munster Hurling Cup as the Shannonsiders added to their burgeoning collecting of medals.

Limerick were dominant from start to finish and never looked in trouble against the hosts, leading at both of the waterbreaks and half time.

Barry Nash was on hand to collect the trophy for the Treaty men who will shift focus to the League tie with Wexford on Sunday week as they seek to replicate the 2020 season where they won everything on offer.

With the dust settled on the Muster Hurling Cup win, below are some of the key talking points to emerge from the game.

More Silverware for the Limerick Machine

Sunday’s win takes John Kiely’s trophies haul since taking over the reigns in 2017 to twelve. For those who don’t acknowledge the Fenway Classic, that haul can stop at eleven. Not a mean feat considering Limerick have only entered 20 competitions in that time.

23 January 2022; Limerick captain Barry Nash lifts the cup after the 2022 Co-op Superstores Munster Hurling Cup Final match between Limerick and Clare at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kiely’s first triumph came in the 2018 Munster Hurling League and since then, Limerick have accounted for ten of the fifteen titles on offer, falling short in the League (twice) and once each in the Munster championship, the All-Ireland championship and the pre season competition.

This medal collection is incredible considering Limerick’s lengthy wait for silverware prior to the Galbally man’s arrival at the helm.

These are special times, long may they continue.

Richie English provides early season selection headache

When Richie English tore his ACL in the League in 2020, there were huge question marks over who would replace the 2018 All-Star. This was amplified when Mike Casey suffered a similar fate with Barry Nash and Dan Morrissey relocated to the full back line.

Both have since nailed down those berths, each winning an All-Star and a pair of All-Ireland medals. English recovered in time to return to training for the 2020 final but didn’t win back his championship spot until the Munster championship semi-final with Cork in 2021. However, he was taken off early in the provincial final of that year with Morrissey retaining the spot for the remainder of the year.

But against Kerry, as one of the elder statesmen in the side, English was flawless in keeping the Kingdom at bay. Yet, he was able to up it for the Banner trip with an imperious performance seeing him awarded the Man of the Match gong, something far too rare for the corner backs of this world.

English didn’t give an inch to whatever marker had the displeasure of coming up against him and even contributed a point in the first half.

The number four jersey is his once again and Finn, Morrissey and Nash will have some work to do to take it back.

Limerick lay down a marker

The scoreline of 0-28 to 0-17 in Limerick’s favour doesn’t tell half the story of Sunday’s Munster Hurling Cup Final. Prior to the throw in, the Clare contingent tore into their Limerick counterparts in an effort to convince those in attendance that they could put it up to the All-Ireland champions. And for the first five minutes they did just that as David Reidy pulled them 0-3 to 0-1 clear.

But once Colin Coughlan’s double had Limerick ahead for the first time, the Banner never got within a sniff of regaining the lead. The game was over as a contest at half time with Limerick leading by eight, but on the field, the victor had been decided long before.

Clare started with nine of the side that began their All-Ireland qualifier with Cork last year with a further four that came off the bench that day named from the start in Cusack Park. Limerick had four starters from their previous championship game with David Reidy, Pat Ryan and Coughlan coming off the bench that day. Yet, Clare couldn’t lay a glove on Limerick in terms of physicality as the Shannonsiders routinely bullied the hosts.

Yes, the influence of Tony Kelly on the Clare team is probably unmatched in the country, apart from maybe TJ Reid for Kilkenny but Limerick were without their two-time Hurler of the Year and 2021 nominees Kyle Hayes and Sean Finn all the same.

Yet, Limerick don’t seem to miss a beat when the first choice players are absent, something which must be a worry to other counties.

23 January 2022; Referee Conor Doyle prepares to throw in the sliotar between Paddy Donnellan of Clare, Brian O’Grady and William O’Donoghue of Limerick and Jack Browne of Clare to start the 2022 Co-op Superstores Munster Hurling Cup Final match between Limerick and Clare at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Fringe players put their hand up

As mentioned already, Richie English has certainly caused a headache for the powers that be such was his performance on Sunday. Yet, were it not for injury, it isn’t hard to imagine that English would never have lost his place in the team.

However, there are some players who haven’t been championship regulars that are certainly pushing their more established peers. In midfield, Brian O’Grady has been excellent in both games, clipping over a pair of scores on each occasion as well as offering a consistent presence in the middle of the park.

Darren O’Connell had his finest game in the green jersey, hitting over three points. Not only that, O’Connell is a ball winner in the inside line and is rarely beaten as he showed against Conor Cleary who is a seasoned championship campaigner. For a side that drop their half forward line considerably, that outlet is priceless.

David Reidy continues to show why he is so often the first man off the bench while Colin Coughlan starting a championship game is a case of when, not if.

13 June 2021; Brian O’Grady of Limerick during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A Round 5 match between Westmeath and Limerick at TEG Cusack Park in Mullingar, Westmeath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

There is no doubting that Limerick have the best XV in the country but Sunday was another reminder that the players up next are better than what other counties can offer also.

Cusack Park hoodoo banished

At the end of the day, a win is a win, regardless of the competition but of course, Sunday’s tie with Clare was the least meaningful of the year as the sides will meet again in the League and Championship, with both games to take place in Ennis.

But to get the win in Cusack Park will be particularly pleasing for Kiely and co who haven’t the best record in the Ennis venue since he took charge. Limerick missed out on the 2018 Munster final after suffering a disappointing 0-26 to 0-15 loss in the championship at the Banner’s home. The following year Limerick were unable to get one over their neighbours as they played out a stalemate in the League at the venue.

Finally, this Limerick side will have experience of winning at the ground, and while it may count for little, it is another piece of momentum Kiely and his side can take forward this year as he said,

“There is only one match that matters here this year and that’s the Championship match that matters. Everything else is only a dress rehearsal.”

League looms quickly

Limerick cannot settle on their latest success as the League resumption is less than a fortnight away as they travel to Wexford Park in the first round on February 6.

The Shannonsiders relinquished their title in 2021 and will be desperate to win it back, starting with the Yellowbellies a week from Sunday.

Four games will follow in the league and then it will be the cut and thrust of the championship.

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