Cork up next after decent show in Limerick

One little piece of Jordan Conway magic stood out most of all on Sunday afternoon in the Gaelic Grounds, writes Damian Stack

Can Jordan Conway continue his good form against the Rebels this weekend? He’s pictured here in against against Chris Joyce during the counties 2017 Munster League clash.Photo by Éoin Noonan/Sportsfile
Can Jordan Conway continue his good form against the Rebels this weekend? He’s pictured here in against against Chris Joyce during the counties 2017 Munster League clash.Photo by Éoin Noonan/Sportsfile

With a flick of the wrists he seemed to dunk it over his man. In the same fluid movement he collected and stuck it over the bar. Down in front of the stand Jordan Conway did enough, almost, to make the entire exercise worthwhile.

It was magic. Just reward for a difficult afternoon at the office for the Crotta O'Neills man and just reward for the smattering of folks who braved the conditions and made their way to the Gaelic Grounds in early January.

Stuff like that, that's what brings them in, that's what keeps bringing them back. Probably it was more than most of us had reason to expect. Sure the sky was blue on the Ennis Road, sure the sun shone and the pitch looked pretty decent all things considered, but this was January hurling in the bitter cold.

One half of the pitch was still covered in frost when the game got underway. When players pulled on the ball there, under the shadow of the Mackey Stand, a spray of white mist rose and glistened a moment before melting into nothingness.

It won't be long before memories of this game too fade to nothingness. What happened on Sunday afternoon doesn't really matter in the larger scheme of things. These Munster Senior League games are little more than glorified challenge matches.

There's value in that, of course there is. For the wider public though it means little. If it did more than 485 people would have turned out. Still for that one brief moment when Conway pulled off his little piece of magic, we could rejoice in it.

For much of the game there was little comparable to get excited about. Even the Limerick fans had reason to grumble after their first half demolition of the Kingdom. It felt to them as though for all that dominance there was something lacking.

The second half bore those fears out. Had the Treaty County been hurling more fluently it's unlikely Kerry would have been able to find their way back into the game. That said, even with Limerick playing below full capacity, Kerry still needed to get their act together.

If Kerry had continued to play as they did in the first half, Limerick would have sauntered to an easy victory. The Kerry side we saw in the second half was much improved. Those mistakes - which proved so costly in the first half - were largely cut out.

Instead of handicapping themselves, the Kingdom got on with the task of putting Limerick on the back foot. Having lost the first half by seventeen points, they won the second by an impressive seven.

"Definitely pleased with the effort, especially in the second half," Kerry boss Fintan O'Connor commented after the match.

"I suppose in the first half we made a lot of mistakes and contributed a little bit to our own downfall, but it was definitely a very encouraging second half performance. It's not easy.

"In fairness they're [the team] chasing around and they're chasing their tails at times and Limerick were very impressive in the first half and they probably took their foot off the metal a little bit in the second half.

"The effort levels were very good and look we're trying to do the right thing on the ball and we made mistakes and probably gifted them a couple of scores in the first half with short puck-outs and different things, but we'll learn from it and try and improve. I think we're heading in the right direction."

It's a difficult balancing act for the Kerry boss. Does he focus solely on gumming up the works for Limerick or does he try get his players to go out and express themselves? To park the bus might - and in hurling a totally defensive approach isn't as effective as in other sports - keep the score down, but what does it achieve?

Kerry aren't going to adopt an approach like that during the National League against sides at their own level, so why do so here? It might be risky, it might occasionally be painful, but Kerry have to be true to themselves and to their own style of play.

It cost them 1-1 inside the opening seven minutes when short puck-outs went awry and, while O'Connor admits that wasn't something he'd have advised his players before the game, he does encourage them to "play it as they see it".

"We can't contradict ourselves either," he explains.

"We're encouraging them to play and to use the ball and encouraging them to try things and you can't go down their neck then when it doesn't work so, look, it's definitely a work in progress, but as long as they're trying to do the right thing and we're trying to improve all the time and they're giving their best all the time, we can't really fault the effort."

Still there's a certain inevitability to getting sucked behind the ball. When the pressure is on, it's all hands to the pump.

"A lot of the time in these games against the likes of Limerick and Clare last week, the forwards are chasing their tails a lot and they're probably not getting to express themselves as much as you'd like," he says.

"A lot of the time they're nearly seventh and eighth and tenth defenders instead of attackers. Shane Conway is a natural forward and he was out there centre-forward today and he's eighteen years of age and he's marking Declan Hannon, Limerick captain and probably one of the best hurlers in the county and it's a fair experience for him and he acquitted himself well, but a lot of the time he's working backwards instead of forwards.

"Ultimately we'd like to have him working forwards and that's what we're hoping for in the National League."

Before then there's one last game to play in this Munster league, a dead rubber clash with John Meyler's Cork. The Rebels' defeat last Sunday to Clare -a quite substantial defeat too it was - means they're likely to continue to be experimental.

That could be just the opening the Kingdom need for an upset victory. It's unlikely granted, but we should remember that Kerry gave Cork plenty to worry about in last year's Munster league in Mallow.

On the other hand Cork won't want to go into a highly competitive Division 1 campaign off the back of a defeat to Kerry, even in a dead rubber game. Nor is Meyler going to want to lose a game to his former county with his new one.

Kerry, meanwhile, are continuing to assemble their panel with Kilmoyley's Tom Murnane due back in training this week - how likely it is he features against Cork we're not sure. Mikey Boyle, however, will miss the game and will likely miss much of the start of the National Hurling League after he had knee surgery last week for an injury he picked up in the first round against Clare.