For the third year in a row, Limerick have failed to reach an All-Ireland hurling quarter-final. This stat alongside the Treaty County’s extended stay in Division 1B makes grim reading for Shannonside supporters.
However, all is not lost for this group of players as there is potential in this Limerick outfit. They didn’t play up to scratch on Saturday night but they pushed Kilkenny to the brink in Nowlan Park.
That said, moral victories are no good anymore for this group of players – most of whom are used to competing in Munster and All-Ireland finals at minor and u-21 level.
Despite a few poor years, it is possible for John Kiely’s side to get back to the heights of 2013 and 2014 where they reached back-to-back Munster finals (winning one) and reaching the All-Ireland semi-final both years. After the defeat in Nowlan Park, Kiely spoke about a big team to give this team momentum.
“This group needed a game, a watershed game, in order to really put the thing into a corner where there was nowhere else to go only produce a performance,” said a dejected Kiely outside the losing dressing room.”
Here are reasons why that watershed moment, may be closer than you think.
Young talent emerging
Kyle Hayes has been a super find for Limerick in 2017. The Kildimo-Pallaskenry man captained the Treaty’s minors to the All-Ireland final last year and has proven more than capable at the highest level. His goal against Clare also showed the fighting spirit as it kept Limerick’s slim hopes alive.
Cian Lynch is another player with bags of potential. Still u-21, Lynch will be looking to inspire that team to success in 2017 and use that as a springboard for the senior side down the line.
The Dempsey brothers Alan and David are also full of potential, and with u-21s Barry Nash and Tom Morrissey gaining big-game experience, things aren’t as bad as they seem for Limerick.
The performances of corner backs Sean Finn and Michael Casey have also been a huge positive for John Kiely this season.
Hannon was immense for Limerick at centre back in Nowlan Park. He swept up a lot of breaking ball a cleared his lines with a no-nonsense approach. Having been touted from a young age as a future star, Hannon, who won a Munster u-21 medal in 2011 had a real coming-of-age match in the home of Kilkenny hurling.
The Adare man will take confidence from this effort and use it to become a real leader in the Treaty half back line. The return of Diarmaid Byrnes next season will make that line formidable for opponents and give Limerick a real platform to start attacks.
Hannon led an impressive defensive effort from Limerick, who kept Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan quiet all evening.
Also impressive was the performance of Richie McCarthy, who did a job on Fennelly. McCarthy was one of a number of Limerick defenders critisised in the wake of the loss to Clare.
“A lot of the team came in for a lot of criticism, it’s a collective thing. We spoke about that after the last game and we were hurt by an awful lot of commentary from certain individuals,” Kiely said.
“Richie was excellent but I thought the entire defence played fantastic, I’m thrilled with the whole team, with the performance.”
They created chances – now they have to take them
Inaccuracy in the first half was a killer for Limerick. Playing with the breeze, Limerick needed to take their chances, and they failed to do so.
“I think in that first 35 minutes, we had something like 12 wides, we created loads of chances,” Kiely said. “We were possibly too direct with the ball we didn’t play it through the lines but at the same time our work rate was good, our battling qualities were good and while they had one or two line breaks, we were coping with them pretty well.”
Limerick only lost by three points, and had late possesion to try to steal a draw. However, as has been the case throughout the season, Limerick were left chasing the game in the latter stages.
“A lot of the games we had all year, we were chasing the game, we couldn’t get our nose in front that has been the biggest problem all year. We just haven’t led from the front in the games that mattered the most.
“We didn’t put pressure on other teams to attack as opposed to defend. All those other teams have had the opportunity to defend in numbers in the final minutes of the game.”
A wasteful attack hit eleven first half wides against Clare in Munster, something that has to be fixed.
However, the one cause for optimism, in all this: They are creating chances. It would be worse, Limerick could be creating nothing. It wasn’t that they travelled to Kilkenny and were blown away, they just couldn’t finish the chances.
“We couldn’t afford 12 wides and go in (at half time) three down, you can’t do that here.
“We needed to be four up, five up, six up given that type of possession dominance, you just have to convert your chances. We had a conversion rate of 33% in the first half,” the manager added.
With experience, this will come. Limerick’s u-21s blew away Tipperary a few weeks ago and there is nothing to suggest that when these players get a year or two older, they won’t put in such an effort at senior level.
They are hurt
Just listening to John Kiely speak after the game, you could feel the pain in his voice. Kiely is hurt, Limerick are hurt, however, the wounds are not fatal. This Limerick team has ever intention of coming back.
“I’m really proud of the guys and the effort they put in, the performance they put in, showing massive grit and determination, and it’s very difficult to accept that we’ve come out of the championship without a win.
“We have so much work put into this, it’s been off the charts, and it’s very, very hard to take,” the All-Ireland u-21 winning manager said.
“Moral victories are no use whatsoever, losing by three, doesn’t matter. If you lose, you lose. Just couldn’t find that chink to get a goal chance. Some of their defending was heroic in the last 10 minutes, they defended really, really well.”
Defeat in Nowlan Park signalled an end to the 2017 season for Limerick. They will now have to wait until next February until they play anymore meaningful games.
“I’m disgusted the year is over, we have so much put it. If you only knew how much we have done.
“The boys have dedicated the last eight months and to lose two championship matches, one with a performance we’re not happy with and a second one that brought us so close to the line, but we just couldn’t get across that line,” Kiely added.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena
Listen to John Kiely’s comments, as well as reaction from Brian Cody and Ger Cunningham and a look ahead to this weekend’s action on this week’s episode of The 16th Man podcast.