THE National Hurling League does not begin for a couple of weeks, but team managers have been and will continue to be, busy in the lead-up to the opening weekend.
In fact, this is an important time for all team managers in relation to coming across fresh material that they believe can be of assistance to them in the league and maybe subsequently in the championship.
Where hurling is concerned, the focus has been on the Munster League and in Leinster the Walsh Cup.
Cork did not participate in the Munster League because of a team holiday just after Christmas, so manager Kieran Kingston will be relying on, perhaps, a few challenge games and some in-house games in his bid to unearth a few players.
Many were a bit surprised that Cork didn’t field a second team in the pre-season competition, something that other counties have been doing, but that decision was taken, no doubt, for the right reasons.
Also, as quite a few of the players that might have featured will be involved in the Fitzgibbon Cup over the next few weeks, they will be able to have a good look at them in those games.
Last Sunday at the Gaelic Grounds, in front of a record attendance for a pre-season competition, Limerick quickly removed the feelgood factor from a Kerry team that had beaten Tipperary with a thumping 30-point victory.
Over 5,000 turned up to watch the proceedings which was an illustration of the interest there is in Limerick hurling right now. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the 5,000 cap on attendances, that might well have been a lot more.
Limerick’s squad depth over the past few years has been seen as one of the primary reasons for their success story and team boss John Kiely is hell-bent on maintaining and bettering that situation.
The team that blew Kerry away was largely an experimental one with a number of debutants and, by all accounts, a number of players put their hand up in their efforts to make an impression.
Limerick were relentless throughout the contest and a return of 4-29 has to be considered a very good day’s work.
In the other semi-final last Sunday, Clare made an early-season statement in their victory over a Waterford team that contained a couple of regulars like Austin Gleeson, Paddy Curran, Colin Dunford, and the returning Iarlaith Daly, who featured for UCC last Friday night in the Canon O’Brien Cup.
Clare will be coming to Leeside for the opening game of the national league and Brian Lohan will be taking a good, hard look at the new additions to his squad.
The sponsors of the pre-season competition, Co-op Superstores, must have been delighted at how things have panned out for them because they now have a Limerick-Clare final next Sunday and it will be no surprise if the 5,000 attendance is not exceeded if the cap is lifted.
One way or the other you are going to have another huge attendance for a game that John Kiely and Brian Lohan will want to make a further statement in.
It’s likely that we’ll see more regulars on both sides as the early season bragging rights are sought and any Limerick-Clare encounter always attracts that bit more attention, irrespective of its timing and status.
The Cork management will probably keep an eye on the game as well given the close proximity of the National League.
In Leinster, in the Walsh Cup, the main focus of attention would have been on Galway because of Henry Shefflin’s presence on the sideline with the Tribesmen.
Galway were looked upon as Limerick’s main challengers before the start of last season, but that certainly was not the case and it turned out to be a huge disappointment that led to the departure of Shane O’Neill and the arrival of the Kilkenny great.
Things started off well for him with a first outing win over Offaly, but it was an entirely different story against Dublin last Sunday when his team were hammered by Mattie Kenny’s team to the tune of 3-29 to 0-19.
Again, it was largely an experimental Galway team, but it’s highly likely that the great man was never on the receiving end of such a heavy defeat with Kilkenny or Ballyhale-Shamrocks.
The Dubs had a number of their best hurlers on display, Donal Burke, Chris Crummy, and Eoghan O’Donnell and Burke ended the day with a return of a whopping 0-18.
In terms of putting down an early-season marker, this was good stuff from the Dubs, but, of course, at the same time putting too much store into any of these pre-season games can leave you with plenty of egg on your face further down the line.
But they are interesting nonetheless and they provide a nice bit of discussion on a Monday morning over a cup of tea in the canteen.
There is no doubt that things are beginning to intensify now, on and off the field, and who knows, these games in these types of competitions might well be the starting point for a glittering career.
One can recall a Cork-Limerick encounter down in Mallow a few years ago that featured a Limerick debut for Seamus Flanagan and we all know the impression that he has made and is making on the far bigger stage.