Extended break will make Limerick even harder to beat this season

Shannonsiders have the balance and focus to retain their titles in 2021
Extended break will make Limerick even harder to beat this season

Limerick stand for the anthem before their Munster final win over Waterford. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IT was no great surprise that the Limerick hurlers and their team boss John Kiely were the recipients of the team of the year and the manager of the year awards respectively at the annual RTÉ Sports awards which were announced last week.

And things are likely to get a whole lot better shortly when the All-Stars selection is announced followed by hurler of the year.

Gearóid Hegarty is a firm favourite to pick up the latter although you could justify naming a few others as well. 

Gearóid Hegarty of Limerick celebrates the All-Ireland victory. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Gearóid Hegarty of Limerick celebrates the All-Ireland victory. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Those awards are always a welcome end of year boost and a reward for the work that has been put in by all concerned.

Limerick, after all, set the bar in 2020 to a height not achieved by too many in the modern era. You had the Kilkenny team that won four in a row before they were denied by Tipperary in their quest for an unprecedented five.

The Cork team of 2004 and 2005 managed to get the bar up to a decent level too and were unlucky not to have won in 2003 as well. However, it’s getting more and more difficult to put back to back titles together and getting three together is even a lot more difficult.

Limerick were simply majestic in their march through the season 2020, winning every competition that they participated in and going through unbeaten.

As a result, they are firmly installed as hot favourites to retain the McCarthy Cup in 2021 and it would be a brave person who would bet against them doing so.

They seem right now to be a good distance ahead of the chasing pack and their depth of resources appears to be a lot stronger than all the rest.

MOVING ON

A great Limerick servant, Tom Condon called time on his career last week but he didn’t figure at all in the 2020 championship. Others like Mike Casey and Richie English didn’t either but it mattered little, the men in green jerseys simply swept past all before them.

Limerick went through the entire 2020 season undefeated, winning all 13 of their competitive games and lifting four different pieces of silverware. Half-back Declan Hannon, the team captain, maintained that there is no magic to how it happened and to how Limerick have established themselves as hurling's market leaders.

“It's just down to really, really hard work by everyone involved," he shrugged. "We've a really tight group at the minute and everyone wants to work hard for each other.

“Nobody wants to leave anybody down. It's a lot of years of hard work that's just culminating at the minute.

"Thankfully, we've been successful over the past number of years. But look, there's a lot of effort that goes into that. It doesn't just happen on the day. It's very, very hard work but it's very, very enjoyable and very rewarding as well."

He makes it all sound simple enough and I am sure his words could apply to plenty of other counties as well.

The hard yards are being put in everywhere but the most important aspect of any team is its balance.

Getting that right throughout the field is vital. You might have five or six of the best forwards around who will post plenty of scores but that will be of little use if you leak goals at the other end of the field.

Go through that Limerick team and they have managed to get that balance from one to 15.

They also have players who can adapt quickly, transferring from a defensive role to an offensive one and we saw that last season with Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes.

Cian Lynch of Limerick in action against Gearóid McInerney of Galway. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cian Lynch of Limerick in action against Gearóid McInerney of Galway. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Success in any county does not come overnight and this Limerick team was a few years into its construction.

It began at ground level, Ard Scoil Rís making waves in the Harty Cup and others like Doon CBS impacting too. Minor and U21 All-Ireland titles were won and the best was got out of those teams.

That does not always happen and didn’t Limerick win three All-Ireland U21 titles on the trot in the years 2000, 2001 and 2002 and failed to win a senior title subsequently. There was some serious expenditure too on the preparation in recent years and nothing was spared in getting the right people to drive the players the extra few miles.

The work of Paul Kinnerk and Caroline Currid has been well documented in recent years and their expertise benefited the team substantially. Team boss John Kiely surrounded himself with the best available talent in their fields and with the raw material at their disposal, the dividend was yielded.

Any off-field misdemeanours were dealt with strongly by Kiely who has now shown himself to be one of the best inter-county hurling managers that there is.

He’ll not match Brian Cody’s record but he will win more titles with these players yet.

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