It was another intriguing weekend in the Munster and Leinster hurling championships as Waterford exited the competition while Clare are left hanging on by a thread.
There were plenty of talking points from the games as we had our first hurling ‘thriller’ of the season as Galway beat Kilkenny by the narrowest of margins and we have discussed some of the biggest issues to arise below.
1. Limerick Display Their Champions Mettle
In fairness, no one was expecting the scoreline that emerged from the LIT Gaelic Grounds at the weekend but Limerick defiantly responded to the pre-match talk that their season was on the line with a comprehensive performance against Clare on Sunday.
Given that Clare were the only team to beat John Kiely’s side in 2018, we were expecting a battle for the ages in Limerick but what transpired was, not only a sign of Clare’s regression in the last year, but also of how far Limerick have come.
Kiely proved beforehand that he wasn’t afraid to make big calls as he dropped Dan Morrissey from the half-back line while Paddy O’Loughlin and William O’Donoghue retained their places thus proving that Limerick have an even stronger panel in 2019.
As bad as Clare were, it shouldn’t take away from Limerick’s performance, especially in defence. Sean Finn and Mike Casey completely alienated John Conlon from the game while only Peter Duggan scored in the first half. Declan Hannon had one of best games in recent times while their half-forward line trio of Gearoid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey, and Kyle Hayes are linking up beautifully once again. They are all but guaranteed a spot in the qualifiers and Limerick proved that they are still the benchmark despite that first-round loss.
2. Waterford’s Season Officially Comes To An End
The only thing that’s certain with Waterford is that there is no easy fix to their problems. Just as Derek McGrath’s stepping down didn’t solve their issues last year, Paraic Fanning doing so certainly won’t. Serious questions need to be asked as to why a squad brimming with talent isn’t performing at the top level and players need to collectively shoulder a large percentage of the blame.
Waterford’s woes didn’t begin in 2018. In truth, they haven’t been hugely competitive as a whole over the past decade in comparison to their Munster counterparts. They have won the provincial title just twice in 12 years and haven’t won it since 2010. Since then, the Deise have been in the final four times but lost on all occasions to Tipperary including hefty defeats in 2011 and 2016.
As much as it’s turned into a parody, there isn’t a trace of the ‘I love me county’ attitude that John Mullane brought to his time in the Waterford jersey from the current generation. You would imagine that there will be a couple of retirement announcements later this year but the majority of this team is young.
As disheartening as the last couple of seasons have been, they must stick with the Waterford set-up for what may be a few more turbulent years because there is no quick fix. If Waterford want to see improvements, they must give the proper time to developing a long-term plan for both senior and underage set-ups and stick with it.
3. TJ Reid Is The Best Forward In The Game
During the week, John Meyler namechecked Patrick Horgan, TJ Reid and Joe Canning as the best three hurling forwards in the country and the Kilkenny man proved that he is the benchmark at the weekend with his phenomenal performance against Galway at the weekend, scoring 2-11.
We have often been critical that Kilkenny are overly reliant on the Ballyhale Shamrocks man for their scores but eight players got their name on the scoresheet in Nowlan Park, Reid simply proved that he is a cut above the rest.
It’s very early in the year to be speaking about All-Stars and Hurler of the Year but Reid proved on Sunday that if Kilkenny can hang on for as long as possible in the championship, he is in for another summer of a host of individual accolades.
4. What Has Happened To Clare?
Clare had an opportunity to knock the All Ireland champions out of the competition, their rivals, their next-door neighbours, that should have been all the motivation they needed coming into this game. Not to mention wanting a response following their hammering at the hands of Tipperary last weekend. Yet, we saw none of that intensity or hunger from the Banner.
Alarm bells should have started to ring for Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney from the start. John Conlon, who has been a shadow of his 2018 self, was being swallowed up by Sean Finn, Peter Duggan was their only scorer and their only threat. David Fitzgerald was struggling on Aaron Gillane and their sweeper system was ineffective. And yet it took them until half-time to make a substitution while they were even slower to make a tactical change in how they were set-up.
Limerick read Clare’s game-plan like a junior-infants book and easily dismissed them while barely breaking a sweat. That should have been the major test for Limerick but it had the intensity of a challenge game in the depths of winter. Clare have one more opportunity to prove that they are among the best teams in Munster and save their season. They have given us no reason to believe that they will beat Cork but they still have phenomenal players in their squad and you don’t become a bad team in the space of a fortnight. However, the likelihood is that they will join Waterford in an early championship exit.