Limerick must restore their lost ‘bite’
Former defender McDonagh keen to see more aggressive Treaty seek redress for Ennis
After last year's qualifier loss to Dublin in Thurles by one point Limerick manager TJ Ryan was confronted by an angry supporter at the final whistle.
As he walked off the field Shane Dowling found himself facing a similar challenge.
Ryan would later diplomatically pass off the incident as passion and frustration, sentiments he could identify with himself at that moment.
Limerick had lost a game they had a firm grip of midway through the first half and it was the second time in just four months that Dublin had ushered them out the door of a mainstream competition, having lost by 12 points in a Croke Park league quarter-final the previous March.
The opportunity for redress has come quickly as Limerick prepare to meet Dublin again but the backdrop of frustration that manifested on the sidelines in Thurles last July has grown, it seems.
Defeat to Clare in Ennis almost two weeks ago has lengthened the shadow over the senior team once again at a time when Limerick hurling is ticking so many other boxes.
They are the current All-Ireland U-21 champions having prised two Munster minor titles in 2013 and 2014 to fuel that team.
Na Piarsaigh are All-Ireland club champions, after winning three of the previous five Munster championships, a fourth in that sequence claimed by Kilmallock in 2014.
At second and third level, the horizon is just as bright. Ardscoil Rís have won four of the last seven Harty Cup finals and, while All-Ireland success has evaded them, only the mighty St Kieran's, Kilkenny have headed them each time.
This year Limerick third-level colleges had the distinction of making up three of the four Fitzgibbon Cup semi-finalists. What's more, there was a strong thread of local talent running through each team, especially eventual champions Mary Immaculate who were backboned by Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch, David Reidy, Darragh O'Donovan and Richie English.
In all, Limerick hurling could lay claim to an involvement of 16 players in Fitzgibbon Cup weekend with U-21 captain Diarmuid Byrnes and Tom Morrissey playing key roles on the LIT and UL teams.
Former defender Stephen McDonagh admits there is "no point in masking over" how disappointing defeat in Ennis was.
"The manner of it was bothering," he conceded. "I'm not going to pretend there were too many signals to say we were on the right road. You could point to the sending-off (of Barry Nash) but either way it looked like Clare were in the ascendancy."
That said, McDonagh expects there will be "a kick" from Limerick in Parnell Park tomorrow night, a venue he feels will suit them even though Dublin remain unbeaten there in over five years now.
"I just feel the tighter confines of Parnell Park might suit what Limerick have to bring to this game. There has to be a bit of bite, a good bit of aggression that wasn't there in Ennis.
"This is a big game now for Limerick. I won't go as far as to say it will define a season or anything like that but there needs to be a response. If there isn't, you'd have to say you'd be worried," he added.
"This failure to get up to Division 1B is becoming a real 'bee in the bonnet' for Limerick. It's been hanging around for a while now. There was a bit of extra pressure put on the board because of the lost revenue."
McDonagh's former colleague Brian Geary agrees that losing out on promotion is having an effect with the team destined to remain in the second flight for a seventh successive year.
"The standard of the games haven't been great. It was a real step up to the Clare game and Limerick just weren't able to go with that," noted Geary.
Geary feels the return of the Na Piarsaigh players will be a lift after the disappointment of Ennis.
The fact that they have a two-week break to a quarter-final instead of just one week as they had last year will also help them, he feels.
"There is a bit of pressure on this weekend, maybe more anxiety than anything to pull out a performance," said Geary.
"But the build-up has been quiet. Apart from Seanie Tobin leaving the panel there hasn't been much about it," he said. On a broader scale McDonagh feels Limerick supporters should not be too quick to pass judgement on emerging young players.
"The problem with counties who are starved, for want of a better word, of success at senior level is that there is a tendency to parachute them in too quick.
"We have to give these players time and space," he said. "We've had to be patient for a very long time. We've seen what has happened before when expectation got too high. Another couple of years is not going to make that much difference.
"There is a big jump from minor to U-21 and just as big a jump up to senior," added the 1994 and '96 All-Ireland final corner-back.