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Discipline issues, media scrutiny and a target on their backs — Limerick's rocky start to 2021

The All-Ireland champions are yet to win a game this season, but Cian Lynch says they’re not a side under pressure.

THEY SEALED 13 wins out of 13 across pre-season, league, Munster and All-Ireland championships last year, so it’s strange to see Limerick enter round 4 of the league still chasing their first victory. 

tempers-flare-between-kyle-hayes-and-conor-prunty Tempers flare between Limerick's Kyle Hayes and Conor Prunty of Waterford. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Limerick’s unbeaten 2020 season saw them proclaimed by many pundits as a dynasty in waiting. The successors to the four-in-a-row Kilkenny team or counterpart to the Dublin footballers. 

Since John Kiely took charge, they’ve won two Allianz Hurling Leagues, two Munsters and two All-Irelands. 13 Treaty players have collected All-Stars. Gearoid Hegarty and Lynch have been named Hurler of the Year.

They were immediately installed as favourites to retain the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2021. 

Even though Kiely’s men are winless so far this year after three games, it’s hardly a team in crisis. 

“I don’t think so to be honest,” Cian Lynch tells The42 when asked if Limerick are a side under pressure. 

“It’s just about staying focused really and working hard every week, every game that comes your way. Just doing your best as a group and team. It’s just about driving on and we’re looking forward to the summer now.”

The two-time All-Star says the crown isn’t wearing heavy on the group.

It’s only natural that opponents will raise their game when facing the team to be knocked down, but he doesn’t feel there’s a target on their backs.

“Any kind of game you’re playing whether it’s league or championship the last few years, no matter who you’re playing or what’s at stake every team and player is trying to do his best and utmost in every game.

“It’s great, there’s a great competitive nature in every match that’s being played.”

Cian and Grace running Cian Lynch is working with the National Dairy Council this World Milk Day to support the essential part milk plays in his pre and post training regime.

 

Limerick’s high foul count in the league saw them concede 0-32 from frees in their first three games. The start of the league was affected by referees and players still adjusting to the new advantage rule, so the Treaty certainly weren’t the only side getting frustrated.

In the opening round draw with Tipperary, Jason Forde scored 11 points from frees. Afterwards John Kiely questioned the free count that read 21-10 in Tipperary’s favour. 

On RTÉ’s post-match coverage, Anthony Daly and Henry Shefflin debated whether referees were watching Limerick more closely this season.

“I’d be very disappointed, to be honest with you, if referees have been told, by the Association, to clamp down on Limerick,” Daly said.

In round 2 against Galway, Niland clipped over 14 frees and Joe Canning added another. In his post-match media duties, a riled up Kiely accused Galway players of diving and looking for soft frees.

The usually calm and collected manager didn’t hold back. He warned the GAA that hurling is would suffer if the tackle is taken out of the game.

It created something of a storm around Limerick. A video clip of Kiely’s comments were aired on The Sunday Game and dominated the following morning’s headlines. It brought more unwanted attention. 

The following Tuesday, Kiely retracted his comments. Much of it was probably just to take the spotlight off Limerick.

“John is brilliant,” Lynch said about Kiely’s handling of the situation.

“Obviously as a manager he’s brilliant, but as a person in general and man we can all relate to it’s great for us all. That speaks volumes for the man and character he is.”

In their round 3 defeat to Waterford, they lost Seamus Flanagan and Kyle Hayes to red cards.

Already absent for the game was Diarmuid Byrnes, who was retrospectively suspended after being deemed guilty of striking Jason Flynn at the end of the game.

The conversation again turned to Limerick’s indiscipline.

“The red cards, that happens in sport,” remarks Lynch.

“The intensity or aggression is getting more and more each year. You just trying to keep going with that and capitalise on that. Within the rules, it’s just [about] that margin really isn’t it? 

“These things happen and you just have to take them on your chin, drive on and learn.”

john-kiely-during-the-game Limerick manager John Kiely on the sideline. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Some questioned if they are being officiated harsher than their opponents. 

For Kilkenny legend JJ Delaney, refereeing decisions going against them is something they’ll have to deal with.

“They’re not going to get that rub of the green, the referees are not going to give that 50:50 decision anymore,” he said.

“As a team, they’re going to have to accept that and use it as a motivational factor, and say, ‘We can’t let it down to the last five minutes, we have to finish off the games with 10 minutes to go.’”

Delaney believes Kiely hasn’t strengthen his squad as much as he’d have liked in the early part of the campaign.

“John might be a small bit concerned with the fringe players that got the opportunity, and didn’t really take it to be honest with you.

“They probably will go back to the same 15, maybe one or two different guys might go in and put their hand up between now and the end of the league. But the starting 15, you can predict it for Limerick.

“That’s maybe what John wanted from this league, to find a few new players and put a bit of pressure on the starters. Paddy O’Loughlin is gone off the panel, he could have been pushing the likes of Byrnes or Declan Hannon.

“There’s another option gone,” he continues. “I’d say he’ll be a small bit concerned. When you’re defending All-Ireland champions, where a team is playing you, it’s not just a game [for them], it’s setting down a marker for the later on in the year.

“So it’s not just a league game for everyone else. So I think they’ll probably understand now where they have to be at. I think the first couple of rounds in the league were probably, ‘Okay, right. We’ve dusted the cobwebs off now we have to go again.’

“It’s important that they learn from the first couple of games that, ‘We have to be mentally and physically up for every game we play. We can’t have a night off.’

“But I suppose you didn’t have Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey on the same starting 15 as well,” notes the 10-time All-Ireland winner. 

sky-sports-gaa-launch Sky Sports announced their 2021 GAA Championship fixtures, along with an all-star line-up of pundits, commentators and presenters for the season ahead. Sky Sports Arena will be the home of GAA, with a total of 18 fixtures broadcasting on the channel – 12 of which are exclusive to Sky Sports. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

Limerick seemed like a cranky bunch at the minute. They’ve dined out on their victories and now it feels like everybody is coming for them.

They had their moments of indiscipline, which might hint at some frustration.

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They’re not quite as cold-blooded as Delaney’s Cats team were in their prime. One or two opponents have succeeded in winding up a few Limerick players. 

They’ve always been a team that walked the line when it came to tackles, but that aggression was part of their appeal. Now there appears to be a greater focus on their tackling.

As two-time champions in three years, they’re no longer the exciting new kids playing a thrilling style of hurling.  They’re the one there to be knocked off their perch.

They’re getting it from all quarters: from the opposition, referees, the media and Croke Park (in suspending Byrnes). They lost games to rivals Waterford and Galway, who’d have taken a huge amount from those victories.

But Limerick have plenty of time to flush it out of their system. Caroline Currid could play a big role over the coming weeks in refocusing the minds.

While Jamesie O’Connor believes Waterford and Galway would have benefited psychologically from those victories, he says there’s no need to sound the alarm bells in the Limerick camp yet. 

“I  just feel that Limerick’s bar is still higher,” he says. “That their ceiling is still higher than everybody else’s when they get everybody back. 

“Morrissey certainly isn’t as sharp as he was last year and he was phenomenal. Himself and Hegarty on the two wings, nobody found the answers to the questions they were posing.

“It’s very, very important for those guys to recover and if they can get back to the levels of last year they’re going to be very hard to beat. I wouldn’t be that concerned.”

He cites the returning Richie English and Mike Casey, the versatility of Dan Morrissey and Kyle Hayes. Then there’s Cathal O’Neill, the teenage forward with a bright future ahead of him.  

Tonight, Cork arrive in town with a pep in their step. The Rebels have scored 14 goals in their opening three games.

cian-lynch Cian Lynch warming up before they played Tipperary. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The battle lines will be drawn in for the Munster semi-final on 3 July. It’s an opportunity for both sides to lay down a marker for what’s to come.

In many ways it’s a bigger game for Limerick, yet this rising Rebels side would take major confidence from a victory.

It’s a chance for the hosts to get back to winning ways and for Cork to test their shorter style against the team it’s designed to take down.

“It’ll be very interesting to see what starting 15 both teams put out,” says Delaney. “I think from a Cork point of view, they’re going to stick to that running style. And they have to start with their main guys.

“Do Limerick counteract that with their strongest 15 or do they just give lads opportunities? I think that if I Limerick I’d like to put out my strongest 15 and curtail their confidence within their own game.

“They’re only developing this game at the start so keep them down as much as you can. If Cork go on and beat Limerick it’s going to give Cork confidence.

“When it comes to the Munster championship you just don’t give Cork teams any confidence at all because they will develop and their chest will go out more than any other team.

“They breathe on confidence alone. Again, if I was a Limerick player or part of the Limerick management team, I’d want to put out my strongest 15 on Saturday night and keep them down as much as you could.

“Because it’ll make it easier in three or four weeks time again when you go playing that same team knowing that you weren’t at full pelt but you still beat that 15 they put out.”

  • Limerick v Cork, LIT Gaelic Grounds, 7.15pm – RTE/eir Sports

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Kevin O'Brien

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