Wednesday 23 October 2019

Core values at heart of Treaty league push

Ever-present: Tom Condon is one of four Limerick players who have started every match in the league. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ever-present: Tom Condon is one of four Limerick players who have started every match in the league. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

They were divided by just a few metres as Joe Canning's lengthy free landed short in the dying moments of last year's All-Ireland hurling final.

But the contrast in their respective approaches to the Allianz League could not be greater for champions Limerick and the team they dethroned, Galway.

For Limerick, their five Division 1A games over the last few weeks has been a chance to consolidate, maintain momentum and continue to build confidence.

Manager John Kiely has given impetus to that with team selections that have never deviated too far from their tried and trusted. The opportunity to experiment in a league that carries no relegation has been overlooked for the benefit of consistency.

Their 15-match run (seven league, eight championship) in 2018 may have tempted them to be less taxing on players at this stage but rarely have so many of an All-Ireland-winning team been so active, mirroring Clare's pattern in 2014 when they had 11 or 12 All-Ireland starters for four of their five regulation games.

Only the injured Mike Casey from their starting 15 against Galway has not yet featured. All the rest have been used quite extensively with 12 featuring in at least four of the games and two - Cian Lynch and Seamus Flanagan (who was suspended for the Tipperary game after being sent off against Wexford) - playing in three.

Mike Casey apart, Graham Mulcahy has been used most sparingly of the front-line players, playing in four but coming off the bench in three.

Of the rest, Tom Condon has made the most of his opportunity in Casey's absence, enjoying a few storming performances from corner-back, especially against Kilkenny. Peter Casey may also feel he is edging closer.

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That Kilkenny performance in Nowlan Park was the high point when, ironically, they had the least number (nine) of their All-Ireland final team starting. In three others (Wexford, Tipperary and Clare) they had 11, while 10 were in from the start against Cork.

Condon is one of four players who have started every game, along with goalkeeper Nickie Quaid, and full-backs Seán Finn and Richie English.

Four more, midfielder Darragh O'Donovan, half-forwards Gearóid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey and Peter Casey have been involved in every game.

Each of their dominant half-backs have played four of the five games from the start, the same involvement that Aaron Gillane has enjoyed.

Kiely has a squad of 42 but just 28 have got game-time so far. Richie McCarthy, William O'Donoghue and Paul Browne have long-term injuries.

Seven points from five regulation league games mirrors what Clare accumulated when they were All-Ireland champions for the 2014 league.

Of those on the periphery, Colin and Pat Ryan have kept in touch with Colin Ryan enjoying three starts as the midfield partnerships alternated.

But by summer, deviation from their All-Ireland-winning team already looks like it will be limited to one position at most.

Different

Galway have taken a different approach, reflective on their continued residency in 1B. With St Thomas' players club-tied, Dáithí Burke also awaiting an All-Ireland club final in football, Joseph Cooney in Australia and Johnny Glynn still US-based, one-third of their starting team last August has been out of the league equation.

Micheál Donoghue has still used 33 players in just four games, the same number he used in six games in 2018 when four of that quintet (Glynn was the exception) all featured. James Skehill played all the league games in 2018 but so far he has shared the position with Fergal Flannery (two games) and Colm Callanan.

Clearly the league has been a time for pause so far for some of Galway's established players and the most of the 2018 All-Ireland team they have started with is just six. But Joe Canning has been busier than in previous leagues with starts in their first three games.

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