Friday 18 October 2019

Colm Keys: 'Record shows Limerick must be wary of spring tides'

All-Ireland champions hit a peak on Sunday that has been difficult to replicate in the past

Rising tide on Shannonside: Peter Casey of Limerick taking possession ahead of Kilkenny defender Tommy Walsh at Nowlan Park on Sunday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Rising tide on Shannonside: Peter Casey of Limerick taking possession ahead of Kilkenny defender Tommy Walsh at Nowlan Park on Sunday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There were many moments in Nowlan Park on Sunday, where Limerick routed Kilkenny to maintain an impressive 100pc start to their Allianz Division 1A hurling league campaign, that had that distinctive 'mark of champions' about them but two scores in particular stood out, both from Barry Murphy.

Murphy's first point said everything about a player in his situation, on the fringes desperate to push himself up the pecking order in a highly competitive environment.

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There were examples of those peripheral players stepping up dotted throughout this clinical performance, from Conor Boylan and Shane Dowling's goals to Tom Condon's barnstorming surges and Robbie Hanley's midfield industry.

Limerick's All-Ireland success last August has elicited just the response that their manager John Kiely would have wanted.

But when Murphy chased down Tommy Walsh, who had just caught magnificently and was ready to clear his lines, hooked him and then turned to land a superb point from along the sideline for a 2-13 to 0-7 lead, that sense of a team wanting to get to that next level was so palpable.

Murphy's second point was more about the team than the individual. He applied the finish but only after a sweeping move that began when James Maher failed to exploit a misguided Nickie Quaid delivery at the other end of the field in the 46th minute.

Dowling stole off Maher and combined with Diarmaid Byrnes before play switched relentlessly upfield.

There were flicks, deft handpasses and support runners with Dan Morrissey, Condon, Boylan, Darragh O'Donovan and Graeme Mulcahy involved before Murphy finished for a 2-16 to 0-8 lead.

Having been a sub for most of last summer, Shane Dowling is keen to prove to John Kiely that he’s good enough for the starting team. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Having been a sub for most of last summer, Shane Dowling is keen to prove to John Kiely that he’s good enough for the starting team. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Limerick manager John Kiely. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

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It was as good as it got and as good as they were, the apex of a campaign that has been close to flawless so far, coming off the back of that first All-Ireland for 45 years.

In that move, Limerick players probably did things that they wouldn't have risked a year ago as they strove to finally break free from Division 1B.

But an All-Ireland like theirs can do powerful things to the mind. And when it all came together in those two 10-minute periods either side of half-time, Kilkenny couldn't lay a hand on them.

In the absence of players so pivotal to their 2018 championship campaign, they still looked imperious. If you get a sense of deja-vu in hearing and reading about the champions taking their game to the next level, it's because you have heard it and read it before.

Quite often in fact and as recently as two years ago when then All-Ireland champions Tipperary stormed the early part of the league with some clinical displays, brushing aside Dublin and Waterford before hitting Clare for 28 points in their third game.

It took Kilkenny to stall them by holding them to a draw in Semple Stadium but the commonly held perception was that Tipp had matured, they were absorbing the lessons from their last defence as All-Ireland champions and would be very difficult to dislodge.

As it transpired they were but not until after a considerable mid-season dip that saw them routed by Galway in the league final and dumped out of the Munster championship by Cork a few weeks later. Remember Clare, as All-Ireland champions, welcoming Kilkenny to Cusack Park for the first round of the 2014 league and grinding out a one-point win?

They subsequently lost to Dublin in Parnell Park but in their third and fourth-round games they hit Tipperary for four goals and Waterford for five to top 1A. 'Next-level' discussions were in plentiful supply those weeks too.

They didn't win the league though and they were never able to recreate those highs, not just that season but, arguably, again under Davy Fitzgerald with the exception of their league semi-final win over Kilkenny in 2016 en route to the league title.

Even Kilkenny hit peaks in the league that they weren't to replicate later on that summer, but still continued to win All-Ireland titles.

The 2008 title, their third in succession, was as clinical as they were in any summer under Brian Cody and by the following spring the untouchable signs were glowing brighter than ever.

True, they lost to Waterford in the middle of a spectacular run of results that saw them crush Galway, Tipperary and Cork by margins of 11, 17 and 27 points respectively. And they still won the league (after extra-time against Tipp) and the four-in-a-row.

Dominance

But that same level of dominance they had for those few weeks in March were too difficult to repeat as opponents closed the gap. The common perception is that All-Ireland winners struggle in the aftermath because they 'over-celebrate' and have 'less done' but the results have largely defied that, especially in subsequent spring campaigns.

Winning an All-Ireland clearly empowers players and those around them to ask what more can they do and how can they advance.

The desire to experience it all again can be energising. Managers have different conversations with players on the periphery and in that early part of the season that creates a different dynamic until the team resets to a more established look.

Limerick are experiencing all that now. Nowlan Park may well be their season's benchmark but that doesn't mean they won't win more titles. Their potential is vast. So too are the pitfalls though, as recent history has shown.

Irish Independent

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