Final whistle at Nowlan Park last night and Limerick’s Liam McCarthy aspirations were put to bed for another year against a relieved Kilkenny outfit. 0-20 to 0-17 loss compounded yet again by Limerick unforced errors which has plighted the season. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action in Kilkenny and wonders what now for Limerick Seniors going forward?
Spirited but panicked performance
Limerick work rate, appetite for the physical challenge were beyond reproach last night. Every Limerick player on duty to a man gave it their all. The back line who were criticized for their Clare performance produced a defiant performance last night with Nicky Quaid, Richie McCarthy, Declan Hannon and Seamus Hickey leading by example picking off Kilkenny distribution to the inside forward line and trying to find players in advanced positions.
The midfield area was a mixed bag. Darragh O’Donovan had good moments in play but also hit three wides (two from sideline cuts) which were momentum killers. Paul Browne was selfless in his work rate for the team; supporting both attack and defense to great effect. James Ryan continued to provide tempo in this midfield area with his introduction but with experienced players of Michael Fennelly and Lester Ryan providing much needed composure and calmness under pressure, the host held out for the win.
The forward line units continue to frustrate. Individually, all the players on show have the skill set to produce match winning performances but as a collective, there are massive issues. Kyle Hayes has being the find of the season and the rookie has tried to provide leadership while other more experienced players have died a miserable death on the pitch.
Limerick need to identify leaders in the forward line; quite frankly last night was yet another example where the forward line struggled to win 50/50 ball. Shane Dowling tried to be that leader with his free taking but his decision to go out the pitch and not be a full forward inside threat did little to change the game? Dowling was also struggling with the tempo of the game which was a surprise considering the time of the year.
Cian Lynch is a talented hurler but unfortunately again last night, his threat was snuffed out by the likes of Cillian Buckley. The Patrickswell native needs to execute the basics; the slick eye catching plays can be reserved for later in the contest when the game is won.
The aerial battle was a mix match at times; how Limerick thought pumping high ball into Peter Casey would produce game winning results was embarrassing? Casey is a quality forward who demands quick, low ball into his area but it was few and far between last night. Casey when receiving such ball was an excellent threat; another exciting Limerick prospect but Limerick players around him need to supply the right ball to the player.
Wide Count Fever
The Achilles heel last night was the number of wides during the opening period particularly. Thirteen wides accumulated, several horrendous efforts on goal. The Limerick forward line apart from Casey tried to run at their man; too often, the easy decision was made by Limerick players to run out to the corner flag and attempt the hail mary score when supporting players were available. It was frustrating to watch and even more so for their defensive and midfield colleagues who then decided to bypass the struggling forward line with speculative long range efforts. Ridiculous stuff.
Limerick management need to hold their hand up on this abject scoring display. The lack of a clinical edge in attacking play has being a hallmark all year but no significant improvements observed. Kilkenny were well below par last night and were there for the taking but the utter lack of conviction in Limerick’s forward play suggested that the players did not believe that they could get the job done last night. Shot selections was terrible at times in the opening half. All very disappointing.
Where now for Limerick hurling?
Yet another early championship exit before the All Ireland Quarter Final stage. Limerick management and county board will point to the underage talent coming through the ranks but there has being zero correlation between John Kiely’s U21 style of play versus the style of play adopted by the senior side this season.
We saw glimpses of the John Kiely U21 style of play last night; intelligent defensive passing to midfield supporting runners but it broke down in the delivery to the forward line who struggled to make any impact on the ground or in the air. Is their a strategy to address these issues? Some will say a work in progress but the forward line unit’s lack of cohesion and movement off the ball this season to assist the ball carrier was at times abject.
Next season is a year where some of Limerick’s loyal servants could call time on their inter-county careers. The age profile for the likes of Richie McCarthy, Gavin O’Mahoney, Graeme Mulcahy, Seamus Hickey and James Ryan means that careful decisions on their futures will be required.
Kiely needs to make tough calls on certain squad roster positions in the weeks to come so that the squad gather late in the year for preseason knowing their roles in the squad and clear on the execution of a clear, efficient game plan.
Forward line leadership?
The lack of forward line leaders is an urgent need. How does Cian Lynch develop into the game winning forward that so many in the game think the Patrickswell club man is? Aaron Gillane’s omission from proceedings last night was astonishing.
The Mary Immaculate and Patrickswell club player has being superb this season; evident in his Limerick U21 performance against Tipperary but only a fringe squad berth this season when other players were getting game minutes with distinct of form. Gillane surely will get an opportunity to stake his claim for a starting berth next season.
Midfield Play Maker Required
The midfield area is potentially an area for improvement. Browne is an all action player but he needs a player with potential game reading ability to complement this. The options on show are all a work in progress. There is a strong possibility that Cian Lynch may be deployed around the middle of the park to increase his influence on proceedings? His distribution as well would be a big plus to address the issues on this facet of play this season.
Back Line Adjustments
The back line area will depend on whether long serving county players decide to call time on their careers. Richie English has stalled in career development this season; has not moved on from a promising U21 career and was wholly exposed against Galway in the NHL semi-final.
Management therefore took the decision to take the Doon man out of the firing line and retain the services of Richie McCarthy who had a superb game yesterday but prior was exposed for pace.
Finn, Casey and Morrissey have stood up to the rigors of inter-county championship; bright futures for each player. Back line tweaks required but the intensity / work rate last night is the blueprint for future back line performances.
Future is bright
There are quality players coming into the panel and Limerick management need to put their faith in these youngsters next season. Dan and Tom Morrissey have provided excellent cameos of their worth to the squad long term. Peter Casey is a potentially exciting inside forward. Barry Nash is a potential full forward threat and Gearoid Hegarty has significant upside to his game still to be tapped into.
However, they will only flourish if management provide the correct game plan to leverage the panel’s strengths. The passing game is the style of play which is comfortable with the younger players in the squad. Basic skill set execution needs to improve going forward; too many times last night, Limerick players were caught for poor first touch and ball striking — poor reflection on the hurling skills implemented for the team this year.
Next Season – Opportunity fulfilled or lost?
NHL 1B promotion is the mandatory requirement next season but with the likes of Galway and Dublin in the mix, this is going to be exceedingly tough. John Kiely’s first season at the helm has being a truly mixed bag; supporters will expect far better next season, otherwise the vultures will be over his head pronto looking for yet another change in management and potential team direction.
Potential – yes. Talent – yes. Work rate and commitment — improving. This Limerick side needs are obvious; a couple of coaching and playing style tweaks and this side will become competitive. No guarantees for Liam McCarthy success but the side needs to right the wrongs of last night, right the wrongs of this season to move up the rankings and seriously contend. A county waits with anticipation next season.