John Kiely and the Limerick senior hurlers will sit back and watch the second round of the 2018 Munster hurling championship safe in the knowledge that they have issues a serious statement of intent for the rest of the summer.
While a lot of the post match reaction forced on how poor Tipperary were, there was little focus on Limerick. Last Sunday Kiely’s troops were simply too good for Tipperary as they secured a well deserved 1-23 to 2-14 victory over the Premier county in the Gaelic Grounds. In the end, the six point margin of defeat flattered Michael Ryans and not the victors.
So with two precious points already on the board, there are some talking points ahead of the trip to Cork next weekend.
John Kiely’s imprint
In 2015, a swashbuckling Limerick U21 team strolled to the All Ireland title with several excellent displays as they overcame Tipperary, Clare, Galway and Wexford en route to a maiden All Ireland success at the grade since 2002.
Managed by now senior manager John Kiely, this side was captained by Diarmuid Byrnes who was named RTE man of the match after the Tipp victory on Sunday. From Sunday’s starting XV, seven were members of the 2015 U21 side. With last year as a bedding in period for these players, Kiely can now trust his men from three years ago to take on the same responsibility for the senior side.
Kiely’s style of play is also beginning to reap rewards for the senior side. As was with the U21 side from 2015, the half-back and half-forward lines are filled with strong men capable of winning their own ball directly from the puck-out as is evident with Byrnes and Hegarty from both squads.
These players, who are all quality stick-men in their own right, are surrounded with excellent hurlers who employ a fast and attacking brand of hurling based on belief in the teams own ability. On Sunday, the full-forward line of Limerick terrorised their opponents and were allowed to do so as their teammates realised this and provided direct ball to the inside line.
Kiely’s aggressive, man-on-man style is suited to Limerick and the quality of players at his disposal. Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh will provide a litmus test to this.
Strength in numbers
Limerick named two debutants to start on Sunday in Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan. Barry Murphy joined them from the bench to make his first senior championship appearance. Yet across the team there are relative newcomers. Only five of the starting XV tasted championship experience before 2016. One of those, Cian Lynch is only 22, which gives you an indication of the age profile of the squad.
Yet, regardless of the age of these players, these are all winners. Cian Lynch, Sean Finn and Aaron Gillane all have two All Ireland U21 medals. Eleven more that featured against Tipp have one. Among those named on the bench that didn’t feature were Shane Dowling and William O’Donoghue who each have All Ireland club winning medals, yet weren’t needed on Sunday.
Kiely is building a panel of high quality players that have a habit of winning and the know how to secure a result. With the structure of the championship as it is, this will be crucial as Limerick face three Munster games in as many weeks in June.
Work to do
The six-point victory was Limerick’s biggest over Tipperary since the 1980s and still the scoreline was flattering to the Premier county. This was a real chance from Limerick to put Tipperary to the sword, one you would feel would have been taken if the roles had been reversed. Obviously, John Kiely will be delighted to get the win and start the campaign with a good performance but he will not be carried away by the display.
Outside of Jason Forde, every Tipperary player came out second best in their personal duals, yet Limerick found themselves behind at half time and level on 15 different occasions. It was not until Barry Murphy’s goal in the 65th minute that Limerick really took control of the game when they led by five points.
Limerick finished the game with four consecutive wides and despite the result a formality at that stage this is something that Kiely will focus in on in training. Within the opening quarter of an hour Limerick had tallied five wides in a game that they should have had wrapped up at the break.
In the grand scheme of things it is important that Limerick have areas in which to improve on for when they travel to Cork, but John Kiely will be aware that if this continues Limerick will run into problems against better sides.