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Back in January, Seamus Flanagan was up for interview at the launch of the Electric Ireland Higher Education Championships and, of course, he was asked about Limerick and their aspirations for the year ahead.
While Flanagan gave a detailed insight into the mentality of this young bunch of players, one section, in particular, stood out and that was about their work rate.
“No one is going to out-work us because, as much as someone else works, we’re going to work 10 times harder.
“You can plan all you want for us, mark us, drop a sweeper, drop two sweepers, but once we work harder than you, we’re going to beat you, we’re going to get those hooks, get those blocks, get those scores and I don’t know how you can plan against that.”
Waterford certainly didn’t have a plan against the ferocious work rate that Limerick produced in the Allianz Hurling League final on Sunday. There were two players in particular that typified the Limerick performance and they were the wing-forward duo of Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey. Prior to the game, neither player had hit the heights of 2018 but their performances against Waterford proved how vital they are to this Limerick side.
In the latest instalment of our Allianz Deep-Dive series, we take a closer look at some examples of the work rate of the pair and their contribution to Limerick’s first Allianz League win in 22 years.
Limerick read the Waterford puck outs very well on Sunday and in the opening period of the game, they dominated the aerial battle.
In this instance, almost every Waterford player is marshalled, forcing Stephen O’Keeffe to go long, and he aims the ball down the left wing to the powerful Austin Gleeson.
Gleeson doesn’t even attempt to field the ball and Hegarty produces a fantastic catch in the air. Gleeson and two other defenders form a triangle around the St Pats man to close him down.
Gleeson drifts off Hegarty allowing him to take a step and find space to flick the ball to Kyle Hayes who was one of the support runners. As soon as Hayes has the ball in his hand, he immediately offloads to Cian Lynch who had been calling for the ball before Hayes had even caught it. From there, the Hurler of the Year had plenty of space and time to take his shot at goal.
Early warning signs from the All Ireland champions.
It’s not unusual to see this Limerick half-forward line dropping back to help out their midfield and even half-back line, and that is what Hegarty and Hayes were doing when Stephen O’Keeffe sent the puck out down the right wing.
He was aiming for Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh but instead, the ball broke off the Stradbally man and Lynch. Hegarty hung back before collecting the ball.
This passage of play highlighted the constant stream of support runners Limerick made available and their consistently unselfish play. It is said time and again but the man in the best position is always given the ball. Here, Hegarty pops a short pass to Declan Hannon instead of swinging blindly over his shoulder.
Tom Morrissey treks across from his own wing to offer another option but Hannon opts to pass to Darragh O’Donovan.
Morrissey remains as a support runner and is given the handpass when O’Donovan is surrounded. The Ahane man then delivers a precise ball right into the hand of Aaron Gillane for another Limerick scoring opportunity.
Again, this example shows the sheer work rate of the Limerick forwards to overturn and win possession off O’Keeffe’s puck outs. On this occasion, ‘Brick’ Walsh taps the ball away from Hegarty on the ground but is unable to rise it cleanly because Hegarty has followed up.
There is a hint of a foul on Walsh but Hegarty pulls away before the whistle is blown and help arrives from both sides. A scrum ensues but, somehow, Hegarty is able to rise the ball slightly off the ground and flick it in between Pauric and Philip Mahony back to Dan Morrissey while falling.
Hegarty gets straight back to his feet to anticipate the return pass. Morrissey feeds Hayes so Hegarty instinctively makes a run off the wing.
He collects the ball from Hayes while on the move, takes the challenge of Calum Lyons and expertly slots the ball between the posts for his first of the game.
The timing of this piece of skill was significant. It was the first play of the second-half and Waterford were determined to get the first score of the half to try and build momentum again.
Pauric Mahony won a rare ball from a scrum in the middle of the field and fed the ball down the line towards Shane Bennett. The Ballysaggart man kicks the ball in front of him and a score looks imminent.
He overruns the ball slightly and finds himself with an awkward angle, thus decides to pass back to Mikey Kearney who has ran into space, completely unmarked.
Kearney rises the ball ready to strike when Morrissey comes thundering in behind him, having made the run from the middle of the field where he was involved in the scrum just seconds before, and gets in a crucial hook which is enough for Kearney to send the ball wide.
The work rate of Morrissey received a huge cheer, not just from the Limerick supporters, but from John Kiely and the coaching staff, proving it’s significance.
This move began right back with Nickie Quaid and was eventually worked out to Sean Finn who sent a long diagonal ball into space. Noel Connors cut out the ball ahead of Aaron Gillane and Waterford cleverly sent the ball through the hands quickly.
Pauric Mahony sent a handpass over the top intended for Jamie Barron but the Fourmilewater man found himself set upon by four Limerick jerseys.
The ball was turned over and as was the case on numerous occasions, Hegarty had anticipated the play and was in the right place to gather possession.
He ran towards the wing to make space for himself and spotted the run of Gillane inside, with only one defender near him, and sent another diagonal ball his way.
In typical Gillane fashion, he took the ball on the turn and slotted the ball between the posts.
On top of the 1-24 they registered, Limerick also hit 16 wides which will give you an idea of just how many opportunities they created.
This Limerick performance was a warning to all the other counties of, not just how good Limerick are, but the number of areas they can still improve on.
Seamus Flanagan was correct in saying that a team will have to out-work Limerick in order to beat them. The thing is, not many teams look capable of doing that at the moment, let alone when Limerick hit their stride in the summer.
Until that changes, John Kiely’s men will keep on winning and it could carry them all the way to August once again.