THE new Munster championship structure is ideal for Limerick.
That’s the view of their iconic former half-back Ciarán Carey, who will be in Páirc Uí Chaoimh tonight for the Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour alongside Diarmuid O’Sullivan, ahead of tomorrow’s eagerly-awaited Cork-Limerick showdown.
The Shannonsiders pulled off an upset by completely outmuscling and outhurling Tipp two weeks ago and will be full of confidence and fresh after a weekend off.
“It wasn’t surprising to me they beat Tipp,” said Carey. “The only thing that was surprising was the squad was only going 50 or 60%. Their league campaign was very impressive. They’ve a lot more mental strength, they were able to deal with some of the opposition and put them away quicker.
“The new system if tailor-made for Limerick really. Everything seems to be coming right because I believe they’re an extremely strong powerful team like Kilkenny were a few years ago, if not in hurling yet.
“Their squad size is massive this year. Everyone looks at Dublin as the kingpins of the academy system [in football] and I think Limerick might at the top when it comes to hurling.
“The development squads are going about 10 years, a bit unlucky at minor a few times, and they’re producing five or six hurlers every year. They got the couple of All-Irelands at U21 and the timing seems to be perfect now.”
The three-time All-Star, who scored one of the greatest ever points to beat then All-Ireland champions Clare in 1996, is a fan of Cork’s style.
“Cork are a beautiful team to watch. They’ve lovely hurlers. If the three boys hit form – Horgan, Harnedy and Conor Lehane – they take stopping. Darragh Fitzgibbon is extremely impressive, he’s a serious engine. Mark Coleman is a gifted player.
“Development wise I think they’re a nice bit behind Limerick, two or three years physically. That could be an issue but it depends how they decide to counteract Limerick’s big men.”
Carey is hopeful John Kiely’s side can defeat the Rebels on the basis of their blend of power and pace, as well as the backing of the Limerick faithful. He believes the Cork backs could struggle if they don’t have cover given Limerick’s height up front.
“Limerick have great support and when they see a performance like they did against Tipperary they’ll travel alright. It’s the makings of a great game.
“For Cork to have a chance they can’t go down the road of man-to-man. They need to close down the space tactically and I think that’s the only way they can do it. They’ll have a huge job defending the six forwards Limerick have because five out of the six are 6’ 3”.
“They’re fierce exciting. Back in our day you’d throw a big lad in and hope the ball might break and the corner-forward might pull on it.
“If you watch Aaron Gillane on his debut he won every ball sent into him at his ease. Flanagan, Gearóid Hegarty, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey. All 6’ 3” and well able to hurl.
“I’ve a bit of sympathy for Kyle Hayes because he’s filling the gap there but he’s out of position and not maximising his potential. I would see him as a number three down the road, commanding that area and owning the square.”
The 48-year-old accepts Limerick are a relatively inexperienced group, yet argues they should drive on after a promising league and the win over Tipp.
“You need to strike while the iron is hot. I’ve seen no reason Limerick can’t go for it, game by game.
“I believe they’ve the biggest and strongest squad in the country. Kevin Downes, Barry Nash and Tom Condon didn’t make the 26 against Tipp and the three of those would push a lot of teams. That’ll give you the idea of the strength in depth. It’s something they lacked in the past.”
He was impressed with his first visit to the Páirc.
“The most important thing is the sod, the field. It’s like a pool table out there and usually when you’ve a surface like that there are no excuses for not delivering the goods.”
The question can Limerick do that tomorrow, especially after Cork’s woeful second half in drawing with Tipp last Sunday?