The John Horgan column: It's early days but you'd have to be impressed with how Limerick are carrying themselves as champions

The John Horgan column: It's early days but you'd have to be impressed with how Limerick are carrying themselves as champions
Kilkenny's Paul Murphy tries to hold up Conor Boylan of Limerick. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

FORMER Kilkenny star Jackie Tyrrell raised a few eyebrows last week when he declared that he didn’t rate Limerick among the top three teams in the country and that he didn’t expect them to retain the All-Ireland.

He’s quite entitled to his opinion and he might be proved correct in this view that they won’t retain the All-Ireland. Given the quality of the opposition now in Munster and in Leinster, it’s very difficult to retain the McCarthy Cup but Limerick must be considered as very serious contenders again.

As regards not being in the country’s top three, it’s very difficult to go along with that thinking after their exploits from last season and their current form in Division 1A of the national league.

One might say that league form in February will not hold much water when the big championship questions are posed but Limerick are the form team in the country at this point in time and it is generally recognised that their squad is the strongest of any of the leading counties.

In fact, that was one of their strongest assets last year, the ability to introduce players at critical stages in games who more than made their presence felt, Shane Dowling, in particular.

Their three wins in the current league campaign have all been very impressive, two of them in two of the most difficult away venues to get anything from.

That was against Wexford and Kilkenny and throw in the home win against Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds, you have a squad playing right on top of its game.

Limerick's Shane Dowling celebrates scoring. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Limerick's Shane Dowling celebrates scoring. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

They were ultra-impressive last Sunday in Nowlan Park, belting in a brace of very well-taken goals by Shane Dowling and newcomer Conor Boylan in a two-minute spell before half-time which effectively ended the game as a contest.

It’s still very early days but Boylan, son of former Midleton star David, looks a fine prospect as team boss John Kiely bids to make the squad an even stronger one this time.

Robbie Hanley was another player who impressed in Nowlan Park, as did Paddy O’Loughlin while Tom Condon, a fringe player last season, was outstanding in defence.

Limerick started without six of the team that started the All-Ireland final last August and you had players like Tom Morrissey, Ger Hegarty and Peter Casey being introduced during the course of the game.

Of course, this is all about reaping what you sow and Limerick’s two All-Ireland U21 wins of 2015 and 2017 are now yielding the desired dividend.

In the aftermath of their McCarthy Cup win last Autumn, there might have been an assumption that they would not take the league all that seriously, all the more so when there are no relegation issues to deal with.

But that wasn’t Kiely and his management team’s thinking at all.

Their theory, in fact, has been quite the opposite, believing that success breeds success and given the depth of the squad at their disposal, they could put plenty of eggs into the league basket.

Everything about Limerick at the moment looks very positive, a lot of players want that green jersey and they intend to put pressure on those who might be considered automatic starters.

Next Sunday, it’s Cork’s turn to try and put one over on them, still mindful of how it all changed last season in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Conor Lehane gets past Cathal Malone. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Conor Lehane gets past Cathal Malone. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Despite winning against Clare in Páirc Uí Rinn last Saturday night there was plenty of criticism of Cork’s performance afterwards.

It was pointed out that there was an almost total dependency on Patrick Horgan to post scores from the dead ball and that the rest of the forwards only contributed 1-5 between them.

All very true, of course, but it was still a fine win in the end and one that will build confidence for the trek to the Ennis Road venue. After all, Cork had lost their previous two league games and their two Munster League games, so a win was almost imperative.

And they got it and that cannot be a bad thing.

We’ll learn a lot more after next Sunday because this will be a big test of Cork’s current credentials.

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