Limerick's structured evolution progressing very nicely
Kiely has moved away from hit-and-whip approach to a more measured passing style which is working
A dark, miserable day in mid-January isn't exactly the ideal time to make definitive assessments about hurling teams but there was still something about Limerick when they beat Clare in the Munster League final in the Gaelic Grounds five months ago that stood out.
This wasn't Limerick as we would have known them, hit-and-whip direct hurlers who played off-the-cuff. Instead, it was more about possession and clever link play, working the ball through the lines and into scoring positions.
It wasn't a handpassing game either, or a case of trying to break a tackle before flicking the ball away.
There were lots of passes alright, but they were mostly with the hurl, snappy 20-/30-metre deliveries creating space the more often they were executed.
It worked against Clare in January and has been working since too. That style has been a feature since John Kiely took over and while it was only bedding in last year, it has become much more refined this season. You can see Paul Kinnerk's influence there too.
Management obviously looked at the available talent and decided the passing game, albeit not of the very short variety, was the best way to go.
In terms of physical power, Limerick wouldn't be among the top three or four teams so this style suits them well. They have all bought into it too. When you see someone like Diarmuid Byrnes spraying out dinky little passes, you know how much things have changed. He is a great striker of the ball and his natural instinct would be to drive it as far as possible but that's mostly confined to long-distance frees now.
The new system is creating more scoring chances and with the panel having expanded, Kiely has a variety of options in most areas.
I'm still surprised there's no place on the squad for Alan Dempsey, whom I rate him very highly, but obviously it's management's call and they feel the panel is strong enough without him. Limerick's performance against Cork last Saturday was hugely encouraging in terms of the squad's growing maturity.
Losing Aaron Gillane on a red card looked as if it might be a game-changer, but there was no panic and no deviation from the basic game-plan. That might not have been the case in the past. Taking a point out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh would have been a good result for Limerick with 15 v 15 but it must have felt like a win after achieving it in such difficult circumstances.
All the more so when they were the ones to grab a late equaliser.
There's a really upbeat mood in Limerick, with supporters believing that the new generation, who have positive experiences from their underage days will provide the necessary freshness to complete the package and make an All-Ireland win an achievable goal over the next few years.
They can take a big step towards reaching the Munster final when they take on Waterford tomorrow. It's by no means a foregone conclusion, especially after Waterford's defiant response to injury and suspension adversity last Sunday but home advantage is likely to be an important factor.
Tipperary's confidence depends on which side of their game they look at.
If it's the down periods against Cork and Waterford that were close to embarrassing them, they will find no self-belief, but if they highlight the excellence of the comeback efforts, they will see themselves as world-beaters. It's all about beating Clare tomorrow and hoping four points are enough to keep them afloat. If that happens, they will be mighty dangerous.
They are 8/1 for the All-Ireland now, but if they survive the Munster cull, those odds will drop very quickly. I fancy them to beat Clare tomorrow, after which their survival will be in the lap of the gods. It wasn't supposed to be like this for Tipperary but it's where they find themselves now.
If you tell yourself you're tired, then you will be. That's why I'm surprised to hear comments from some camps about how the busy round-robin schedule is so difficult to negotiate.
Granted, it's harder on the counties who have four games on successive weekends, compared with those who get a break but, even then, it's best to say nothing about it, at least until the campaign is over.
Players have never been as fit or well-conditioned and are looked after in every possible way so they should be able to cope with the heavy workload. Talking about it just offers an excuse if things go wrong. That's never a good idea.
Wexford are facing their fourth game in 20 days in Nowlan Park this evening but I'm sure the sight of the black-and-amber jersey will more than energise them. They were disappointed with their lacklustre performance against Galway but then the same applied to Kilkenny two weeks ago. Indeed, in terms of the results against Galway, there was little between Kilkenny and Wexford.
This evening's winners will get another chance against Galway in the Leinster final, something Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald would relish. Kilkenny got the better of Wexford twice in the league this year and while championship is different, I expect them to complete a treble.
It's unfortunate for Dublin that their clash with Galway is a dead-rubber, especially since they should have beaten Kilkenny. Even if they had snatched a draw, their fate would now be in their own hands, instead of playing for pride only. They will want to end the season on a high but Galway will be in no mood to accommodate that. With so many lads fighting for their places, they will work very hard to maintain their unbeaten run and will probably achieve it.