Limerick must not get carried away – Cregan
Eamonn Cregan has hailed the improvements in discipline and style of play in Limerick hurling overseen by manager John Allen, but he still admits to being cautious about further progress against the top counties and fears the county's tendency to collectively get "carried away".
Limerick lost an All-Ireland quarter-final to Kilkenny last July but were right in it for the first three quarters of that game, having seen off Clare in their previous outing.
It was noted as another progressive season for Limerick, but Cregan still feels the fundamentals are not yet in place for a more sustained challenge.
"Unfortunately when Limerick do well everybody suddenly says, 'Jaysus, we have an All-Ireland on our hands'," said Cregan.
"You have to come down from that high, you've got to keep your head and keep your feet firmly on the ground and you've got to work at what you're doing. We have this tendency to get carried away.
"Our hurling pick is too small. We basically may be picking from 30 players, whereas Kilkenny are picking from 40, 50, 60 players. Cork are something similar. It'll take time, and doing the proper coaching and so forth will help us along the road. But there's no guarantee that what we're doing is going to work."
Cregan, inducted into the GAA Museum's hall of fame last week, believes the bedrock of success has to be created through a greater fostering of hurling in the schools.
"If you take Kilkenny, everybody in Kilkenny from the day he goes into primary school has a hurley and a helmet," he said. "So therefore there's nothing else affecting them, only hurling.
"We've got to get to that approach. Now we have four Limerick teams playing in the Harty Cup for the first time ever. Next year we hope to have a fifth team. So that's the idea, to bring up the standard of players playing at a high level."
Cregan acknowledges that one of the big steps forward for Limerick has been in the area of discipline.
"The team manager, John Allen, has done a good job with regard to that. It's up to the players themselves, but if they want to be on a Limerick team they must be disciplined both on and off the field," he said.
"If they don't want to do it then go away and let someone else come in who wants to be on the Limerick team."
Cregan admits he was never comfortable with the style of play adopted by Limerick during Donal O'Grady's year in charge.
"We've had a number of styles of play," he stated. "Donal O'Grady's style of play came in there about two years ago. Personally, I don't like it.
"Having played corner-forward, I can't bear to see the ball going backwards and forwards across the field like that.
"A forward wants the ball to come in fast and low and at an angle and here you are wondering when the hell is the ball going to come in. So therefore you're nullifying the forwards straight away by a slow ball.
"I'm one of those people who believe in a fast ball. Effective, intelligent ball coming in is far better than handpassing, handpassing, handpassing.
"John (Allen, pictured) has come back a little bit off that and has brought a little bit more directness to the game."
The 1973 All-Ireland winner with Limerick, who managed Offaly to All-Ireland glory in 1994, bemoaned the proliferation of "scrums" for possession in recent times.
"You know this hurling 'scrum' that I call it, I think that's obnoxious. I hate it. There's a ball there and everybody wants to go down and rise the ball and put it in their hand and burst their way out.
"All you have to do is just flick the ball into open space and the game goes on again. Was it Jimmy Denton that made the suggestion that instead of the ball being thrown in along the ground, you throw it up in the air?
"Give it a go, because this thing is terrible. Take the Fitzgibbon Cup at the moment and you're playing in bad conditions, you could have 10 or 12 scrums. That's all I call them – scrums – and they're not conducive to good hurling.
"Ground hurling has a part to play. It's not the be all and end all of everything but there are times when you need to let the ball go on the ground."