THE LIMERICK senior camogie squad raised the bar in 2016 when they reached the semi-finals of the Division 1 National League.
They didn’t do this by fluke. They beat Cork not just once, but twice along the way.
For 2017 Limerick were in group 2 that consisted of Galway, Meath, Clare and Offaly so it would be fair to say that apart from Galway the only real threat that should have come their way was from Offaly. They overcame this by three points 0-15 to 0-12. Yet they also received a scare from Clare, pulling through by the narrowest of margins; 1-13 to 0-12.
Limerick’s only defeat, therefore, was to Galway, who face Kilkenny in the semi-final in Semple Stadium. Meanwhile, it's Limerick v Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday in the second semi and Limerick manager John Tuohy is clear where his side’s ambitions lay.
"They are ambitious and always want to go a step further. We know that we are capable of beating any of the top teams on a day and now we know what we need to do to beat them consistently," he said at the commencement of this year’s campaign.
"After last year the girls know where the bar is and they have bought into everything that we have asked of them like diet and nutrition and everything is very professional."
Star player for Limerick, Niamh Mulcahy, captains the side with two vice-captains in Fiona Hickey and Sarah Carey. Limerick rely hugely on Niamh but at times the support she requires isn’t there. Consistently averaging seven to eight points a game she is undoubtedly their talisman.
Cork took a 1-11 to 0-9 defeat to Limerick in their opening round last season. Limerick were aggressive and hungry, something that Cork in truth lacked for the most part in 2016. If you don’t have those ingredients, then all the skill in the world won’t count for much. Cork scored just four points from play.
The way the league played out Cork and Limerick ended in a playoff for the semi-final spot and in truth we all expected Limerick’s earlier victory to have been a one-off and for Cork to advance. Not so. Their winning margin this time was seven points as Cork bowed out.
Let’s be honest though, when it comes to championship Cork are a different side and when the sides met in July Cork ran out 3-17 to 1-9 victors.
That’s why the league is so important to Limerick. They are making strides, unquestionably, but they aren’t All-Ireland contenders yet. They are league contenders though and to reach a league final would be massive progression for them over the past two seasons.
Certainly, there seems to be more intent in Cork’s approach to the league this year compared to last. Not so much in that winning the league is significantly important to them but in their approach in general after last September’s All-Ireland final defeat.
Five wins from five is as good as you can get but Cork know they are far from the finished article.
Paudie Murray may be forced to make a change for Sunday’s game with Pamela Mackey still recovering from a knock to the back of her leg from the game against Kilkenny. If she fails to make it Emer O’Sullivan will be the likely direct replacement. The team wasn’t selected at the time of writing but Cork were defensively exposed a little against the Cats so there could well be additional changes there.
At midfield and up front Cork will likely keep numbers eight to 15 of Gemma O’Connor, Jennifer Barry, Amy O’Connor, Orla Cronin, Julia White, Linda Collins, Niamh McCarthy, and Katrina Mackey, with Mackey on fire last Saturday.
Cork’s intensity and work rate is currently good, it has been good throughout the league all over the pitch. They’ll need to bring that to Páirc Ui Rinn.
After last season, Limerick are no longer a team to be taken lightly.
They’ll relish this challenge in Cork’s stadium and with the weather predicted to be perfect for hurling, we could be in for a great game.