Defining day has arrived as Limerick seek 1B exit
'We have had a lot of false dawns but you need to keep believing,' says optimistic former Treaty star Moran
The top and bottom lines are clear for Limerick, providing a stark outline to the reality that when it comes to the big Allianz League tests, they have not delivered for a long time.
Their last year in the top tier was 2010, a season that had a calamitous impact on the county when a dispute over team management left them with a second-string squad. Unsurprisingly, they were relegated from Division 1 and made a quick exit from the championship too.
Harmony restored, they won promotion to Division 1 in 2011, only to find that they were in 1B after the league was restructured for 2012. They have remained there ever since, always challenging for promotion but never quite making it.
After six attempts and six failures, they will try to make it lucky seven in Pearse Stadium tomorrow when, as luck would it, their opponents are the reigning All-Ireland, league and Leinster champions.
"Not exactly the easiest of games, but this is about making a statement," said Ollie Moran, a man who has joined the ranks as one of the best players never to win an All-Ireland medal.
"There's no bigger scalp than Galway out there at present, so it's a great chance for Limerick. Galway might be a bit vulnerable at the moment.
"Sure, they'll want to get back up to 1A too, but it's even more important for Limerick."
Moran endured a lot of disappointments during his 12 years (1997-2009) in the Limerick senior jersey and wants to see the current generation have better experiences.
Optimism is thriving in Limerick but then it's not the first time that the mood was bright and cheerful, only to be darkened by exposure to life in a very competitive environment.
"We've had a lot of false dawns. I suppose we're a bit like Mayo people. We always believe the next season will be the big one. But then you have to keep believing. In fairness, there are a lot of positive things going on in Limerick hurling," said Moran.
They include the U-21 team winning two of the last three All-Ireland titles, Na Piarsaigh seeking their second All-Ireland club title in three seasons in Croke Park next Saturday and Ard Scoil Rís winning five of the last nine Harty Cups.
Despite that encouraging background, a first All-Ireland senior title since 1973 is the only prize that will fully sate the county's appetite.
Getting into 1A would be an important start. In fact, it would have a double significance as, in addition to booking a top-six slot next year, it would also show that Limerick can deliver under real pressure, something they have failed to do in the league for the last six seasons.
Each of those seasons presented them with a crunch tie which would have a major impact on their promotion hopes.
In 2012 and 2013, they lost 1B finals to Clare and Dublin respectively. In 2014 and 2015, they dropped points to Offaly, which wrecked their promotion chances.
In 2016, they lost the round 5 promotion decider to Clare and last year they lost a first-round game to Wexford which left them needing someone else to stop Davy Fitzgerald's men marching to promotion. No one did.
Limerick later beat Cork in the quarter-finals, sending hopes soaring in the county. But, as has happened so often, a lack of consistency made a quick return and they exited tamely against Galway in the semi-final.
"Getting out of 1B was great for Wexford. Look how well they have done since then. Limerick have been down there too long. They need to get out and if they managed it by beating Galway, it would be a massive boost, not just for the rest of this year but into next year as well," said Moran.
Limerick have been very impressive so far this season, winning all seven Munster League and 1B games by an average of 11 points. They haven't conceded a goal in their last five games and have conceded only two in seven outings.
Their scoring difference is 29 points ahead of Galway's, which means that a draw tomorrow would be enough to secure promotion. All this has been achieved without the Na Piarsaigh players, who are occupied by All-Ireland ambitions.
"Other players have got a chance to stake their claim. That has worked well. When the Na Piarsaigh lads come back, it will leave John Kiely with a very strong panel. That's going to be very important for the new championship system this year," said Moran.
He likes the round-robin provincial championship format at one level, but fears that it will add to the frustrations for club players, who are already unhappy with the lack of games in the summer months.
"Club players will get a few games in April and might have to wait months for the next one. It's just widening the divide between the county and club player. That's in no one's interest. It's not easy to fit in all the competitions but, as things stand, it's the club player who is losing out."
For now though, the focus is on the Limerick county team as they attempt to become the first side to beat Galway since Wexford in round 2 of the league 13 months ago.
"There's no doubt about it - this is a red-letter day for Limerick. Win or lose, they will be in the quarter-finals but a win would take them into 1A next year. Obviously, Galway are going to test them in a way they haven't been tested so far, but they seem to be ready for it," said Moran.
Limerick's possession game has been very effective, although not everyone in the county believes it's the best way forward.
Moran is reserving judgment and believes that tomorrow's game will be very informative on where exactly Limerick stand.
"Physically, Galway are a very big side, with ball-winners everywhere. That was crucial to their successes last year.
"Whether we have enough ball-winners in Limerick remains to be seen. So far, so good, but the big tests are ahead, starting against Galway," added Moran.
Limerick have a poor record against Galway in recent times, but all the indications this year are that their training programme was geared for a quick start to the season, whereas Micheál Donoghue has delayed the priming process.
That gives Limerick a real chance of finally escaping from 1B.