Bennis confident Treaty will come of age against Cats
THE consensus is that exciting times lie ahead for Limerick hurling, but former Treaty manager Richie Bennis has urged the county's young guns make their mark in tomorrow's All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Kilkenny.
With some of the best young talent in the country, Limerick are tipped for a big future and Bennis (below) believes that could start at Semple Stadium tomorrow.
"It's hard to know exactly where this Limerick team is at," he said. "This is our first encounter with one of the top four or five teams, so it will be a good test. People are talking about the future of this team, but how far into the future can you look? As far as I'm concerned, the future is your next game.
"We're fed up of good performances and moral victories."
Declan Hannon, Shane Dowling, Sean Tobin and Kevin Downes are among those tipped to develop into top players. All four are forwards who have helped the Shannonsiders rack up 18-84 in their four championship games to date.
That tally includes an 8-26 total against Antrim, which might have said more about the Saffrons than Limerick, but Bennis believes that Limerick's impressive firepower gives them a real shot of inflicting a shock All-Ireland quarter-final defeat on Brian Cody's men.
"It's the right time to meet Kilkenny," he insisted. "People are talking about a 'Cat-lash', but the truth is we don't know how they'll react. We have nothing to lose and we have talent. Goals win games and we have forwards who can score goals, which isn't something we've always had."
Drawing a line of form through Clare, whom they beat at the fifth time of asking this season, points to a team on the rise.
"It's a good measure. You can make all the excuses you want that Clare had played the previous week, but, in the football, Kildare have shown that playing every week suits them.
"We won Division 2 last year and we weren't promoted and we missed out this year, but they are getting better all the time."
However, Limerick have learned from bitter experience that having talented youngsters don't guarantee anything at senior level.
The three successive All-Ireland titles at U-21 level from 2000 to 2002 proved to be the cruellest of false dawns. The Treaty didn't win a Munster championship match for six years, before, in 2007, they went all the way to the All-Ireland final, where they faced a Kilkenny side who sealed the first of their four-in-a-row titles.
Bennis and Limerick had prepared for a Kilkenny blitz in the opening period, but they were helpless to stop it as the Cats raced into a 2-3 to 0-0 lead after 10 minutes.
"No one gave us a chance against anyone that year, never mind in the All-Ireland final," Bennis said. "We got used to that sort of attitude and we talked before the game about the importance of the first 10 minutes, but still Kilkenny blitzed us.
"That's what they do, they can bury you in a few minutes. For the rest of the game we held our own and we actually outscored them, but the damage had been done."
From a Limerick point of view, that game has no relevance now. Cody can call on eight of the team that started that All-Ireland final, but for Limerick only Seamus Hickey, Donal O'Grady and Brian Geary remain.
Now the panel is populated by new faces, including several of the side that secured Munster U-21 honours in an epic final win over Cork last year.
Most of those players had already been drafted into the senior set up by 2011 manager Donal O'Grady and, according to Bennis, there is more talent on the way -- though he did sound a note of caution.
"We have good talent coming through, but they need something to aspire to. They need a successful senior team to look up to. We've had this before.
"When Andrew O'Shaughnessy came on the panel at 18 or 19 he was expected to do the business straigh way rather than being eased in, but if he was in Kilkenny he would have six All Stars."
And tomorrow, Limerick are presented with an opportunity. Their cause for optimism came from Galway's inspirational display against the Cats in the Leinster final.
"It was good for hurling," said Bennis.
"And that's nothing to do with Kilkenny, they'd know that. There is a great respect for them and Brian Cody, for how they have handled themselves in victory and defeat, but it just gave everyone else a shot in the arm.
"We have a chance. I think, if we can keep them in sight, things could go very well for us."