THE halfway point of January is not yet upon us and already the Limerick hurlers have sent out a very strong, pre-season statement.
Not many counties at this time of the year can boast the fact that they have beaten three of the teams that they will be facing in the Munster Championship further down the line.
Tipperary, Clare, and Cork have all suffered defeats to John Kiely’s team in the now concluded Munster SHL and while this competition is well down the list of priorities of all the counties, it should not be dismissed either.
When you discuss these pre-season competitions you are talking about teams being depleted, in some instances a county’s second team and that, of course, has to be considered.
Take the case of the Dublin footballers in last Saturday’sO’Byrne Cup game. New team boss Dessie Farrell fielded without one first-team player and brought on 23 subs during the game, a record for an inter-county match.
In defeating Tipp, Clare, and Cork, Limerick faced three teams without key players, but they were minus a lot of players themselves.
At this very early juncture in the season, it’s all about experimentation, giving members of an extended training group an opportunity to show something.
Players might be looked at in a position that they are not overly familiar with and management teams are trying out things that might benefit them when the stakes are much higher.
When Cork and Limerick last faced each other in the final of this Munster League, Cork put seven goals past the Shannonsiders and at the end of the game some fans had a go off the performance of the team.
This time, at the Gaelic Grounds last Saturday night, they didn’t concede any and easily overcame the challenge of Cork with an impressive, second-half performance.
Now, it has to be said that the team and subs that Limerick fielded during the game were much stronger, and Cork had to do make do without 21 of their training group because of commitments in the Fitzgibbon Cup.
So nobody is getting carried away, one way or the other, about the outcome.
But, at the same time, one gets the feeling that Limerick mean business this season after failing to retain the McCarthy Cup in 2019.
They did win Munster, but failed to travel the extra few miles, something that is not easily accomplished as history has shown.
However, many were still of the belief that Limerick are the best team in the country and that they will prove that between now and next August.
That’s obviously a wait and see situation and getting out of Munster alone will be a huge task, as it will be for the other four counties.
At this time of the year, and in the national league, it’s all about constructing a panel that can be relied upon in the championship. You almost have to have cover now for every position and trust that replacement if the need arises.
Limerick got a bit of bad press pre-Christmas for off-the-field activity and Kiely was intent on putting all that to bed once the squad got back out on the field.
And what better way to sort all that out than by winning matches.
They put 1-32 up on the board against Cork last Saturday and at any time of the year that’s good scoring.
David Reidy has scored prolifically in the last two games and they had 10 different scorers against Cork.
Limerick had a greater number of players on the pitch than Cork had in terms of who is likely to be playing when the sides meet in the all important championship encounter in early summer.
So everything must be factored in with these pre-season competitions, but it will be a major surprise if Limerick are not going to be serious All-Ireland contenders at the business end of the campaign.
Continuing with the pre-season, one result that caught the eye over the weekend was Offaly’s victory in the Kehoe Cup final over Antrim.
Now, this competition is well down the pecking order, but any type of silverware has been non-existent for the Faithful County over the past 10 years or so.
So winning anything, even a game of rounders, is a plus given the travails of the past few years.
New team boss Michael Fennelly seems to have got a positive response since taking the reins and he was happy with the outcome against a side that had former Tipperary goalkeeper Darren Gleeson up the line from him as part of the Antrim management.
Offaly still have a long way to travel to get back among the elite hurling counties, but a small step has been taken.
And the game of hurling desperately needs a county like Offaly to be challenging for greater honours.
Closer to home, my own club Castlemartyr won the Cork County B U21 title a few weeks ago. Celebrations were muted because they were aware that they had to go back to their own division to conclude that championship, a semi-final and a final.
Lose there and they must hand back the county trophy. They won the semi-final convincingly last Sunday against Lisgoold, but there’s a potentially much tougher final against Cobh to be played yet.
And if Cobh win they get both trophies.
If they do you will say well done to them, but this situation of having to go back into your own division after winning a county is totally unacceptable. It has happened before, but it cannot be allowed to happen again.