Bench press was crucial for Blackrock and Limerick hurlers

Strength in depth is vital for any GAA team hunting the biggest prizes
Bench press was crucial for Blackrock and Limerick hurlers

Tadhg Deasy, Blackrock, in action against Newtownshandrum. His impact off the bench was vital for the Cork hurling champions. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

THE hurlers of Blackrock and Limerick had much in common as they swept to Cork County and All-Ireland glory.

First and foremost, they were the best teams in both competitions, they had the balance throughout the field that ensured that they were successful.

Both had strong management teams who were not afraid to make the big calls when they felt it was necessary.

Both Fergal Ryan, in Blackrock, and John Kiely in Limerick certainly led the way in that regard.

Alan Browne, director, Murray and Browne Auctioneers and award sponsors; with Fergal Ryan, Michael O’Halloran and Jamie Ryan.
Alan Browne, director, Murray and Browne Auctioneers and award sponsors; with Fergal Ryan, Michael O’Halloran and Jamie Ryan.

But perhaps the real key to their stories of success was the depth of resources that they had at their disposal; being in a position to freshen things up when the need arose, replacing players who might not have been making the desired impact with others who fitted seamlessly in.

Take the Rockies in their triumphant march to the Cork title. In a couple of games, they found themselves in precarious enough situations and had to look to their bench to ensure that they eventually got over the line.

They had players of the calibre of Alan O’Callaghan, John Cashman, Tadhg Deasy, and young Robbie Cotter not starting in games but being introduced at crucial stages that made the essential difference.

Deasy, in particular, had a huge influence on the various proceedings. When he got the nod. In the best game of the championship, when UCC provided a searching test of the Rockies credentials, Deasy entered the fray and ended up with a haul of five points to his name.

So much was Deasy’s contribution in all the games that he featured in that he was called into the Cork squad before Christmas. 

Alan O’Callaghan’s experience came to the forefront too when it was much needed and John Cashman added quite a bit when he got the call. 

In the terrific county final with the Glen, a game which went to extra-time, Blackrock’s resources worked the oracle again.

Young Robbie Cotter, an outstanding prospect, came in to secure a brace of goals and add two points for good measure. Deasy delivered 1-1 while O’Callaghan posted 0-2. That’s a haul of 3-5 from the players who got the call during the course of the game.

Blackrock's Alan O'Callaghan and Valley Rovers' Kevin Canty tussle for the ball. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Blackrock's Alan O'Callaghan and Valley Rovers' Kevin Canty tussle for the ball. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

And that’s one of the primary reasons why the old trophy went back to Church Road again, having those much-needed resources to call on when the need was there.

It was a similar story with Limerick in their march to every trophy that was available to them. It wasn’t today or yesterday that they were recognised as having the strongest of the inter-county squads and Cork found that out in 2018.

At various times during the national league, the Munster championship and the All-Ireland semi-final and final you had players like Seamus Flanagan, Pat Ryan, David Reidy, Peter Casey, David Dempsey, and Peter O’Loughlin not featuring in the starting line-up but being called upon off the bench.

Some of those players would start with most other counties, but such is the depth of Limerick’s panel right now they had to bide their time before being introduced. 

To be successful now at the highest level, any level for that matter, you need 20 to 22 players that you can trust to call on if the need arises You need a viable alternative for every position on the field now, you need players who will show in training that they have the capabilities of doing the job they will be asked to do if called upon.

In the distant past, a team might finish a game with 13 or 14, even the full 15 that they set out with.

Well, those days are long gone. You need players now that will really put it up to their management teams and make it very difficult to leave them out.

Kilkenny’s remarkable achievements of past years were based very much on what went on in A v B games in Nowlan Park. Back then it was often said that if they entered a second team in the championship they’d meet the first 15 in a final.

That was a total exaggeration, of course, but Kilkenny had that depth in their pool of players. Limerick have it now and that’s why they are favourites for this year’s big honours again.

The Rockies too had that same depth here on Leeside, up to 19 or 20 players ready to successfully answer the call That’s what the game is all about now, having that greater depth in your resources.

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