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Dublin: 2°C Sunday 27 September 2020
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Limerick's injury issues, star names in good club form and championship countdown begins

Saturday’s county senior semi-finals provided food for thought for the watching John Kiely.

Doon, Patrickswell and Na Piarsaigh were all in action over the weekend.
Doon, Patrickswell and Na Piarsaigh were all in action over the weekend.
Image: INPHO

ON SATURDAY EVENING at the Gaelic Grounds, John Kiely took his seat in the Mackey Stand before 5pm.

A September county senior hurling semi-final double-header would typically be viewed with a long-term lens, surveying form ahead of the following season.

But the sesimic shift in the 2020 season means evaluating the form of players is a more pressing matter.

Limerick manager Kiely watched on with his coaching sidekick Paul Kinnerk, a few hours after the GAA’s Central Council had rubber-stamped their plans for a winter inter-county championship and ahead of today’s starting date when inter-county squads can officially gather once more.

The green light was given for the October start date and that leaves Limerick six weeks out from a battle with Clare as the first Munster hurling shots will be fired.

Saturday was an evening for assessment then, just over six months since Limerick beat Waterford by four points to book a league semi-final place before the season was shut down in an abrupt fashion.

The Limerick semi-final programme brought together the four leading contenders for the Daly Cup – Doon, Kilmallock, Na Piarsaigh and Patrickswell – with their starting sides stuffed with players established in Kiely’s setup and those hoping to make persuasive claims that they should be soon recruited.

The absentees from the field of play were striking and will likely play on the mind of the Limerick management. In July 2019 when Limerick relinquished their grip on the Liam MacCarthy Cup after a power-packed showing by Kilkenny, they used 20 players that evening in Croke Park and 11 of them are affiliated with clubs that played in Saturday’s semi-finals.

john-kiely-and-paul-kinnerk Limerick manager John Kiely and coach Paul Kinnerk Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Shane Dowling’s county days have ended after he succumbed in early July to a knee that had been hit with recurring setbacks. Dowling’s Na Piarsaigh took down title holders Patrickswell in the second game with Richie English’s Doon springing a surprise against Kilmallock in the opener. In late February, Kiely confirmed after watching his team sweep past Cork in a league game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh that English had been hit with a cruciate tear.

As Doon warmed up on Saturday afternoon, English was standing at the edge of the group and watched their routine. In 2018 he collected an All-Star and has helped form a formidable inside rearguard for Limerick. If his loss is severe for his club, it also robs his county of a key asset.

richie-english Limerick defender Richie English Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Those absentees have been well-flagged as Limerick adapt before the main hurling business of 2020 begins but another headache has been created with the uncertainty over English’s club-mate Darragh O’Donovan. Doon’s success was all the more impressive in light of the fact that their starting fifteen has been stripped of two of their best players.

O’Donovan’s loss was felt more recently as he limped off in the quarter-final againt South Liberties the previous Sunday. Fears of a cruciate problem seem to have been dispelled yet his prognosis is still unclear.

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“We’re not really sure, and I’m not bluffing when I say that,” said Tony Ward, Doon manager and Galway native after the final whistle.

“We’re living in hope.”

Ward’s hope revolves around whether O’Donovan can make a rapid comeback for next Saturday’s final when his club aim to inscribe their name on the Limerick senior hurling roll of honour for the first time.

If that seems difficult to envisage in such a short time frame, Kiely will hope O’Donovan’s prospects for Limerick will become brighter. There was another experienced figure requiring treatment on Saturday night, Kevin Downes forced off in the first half for Na Piarsaigh in some discomfort after sustaining a blow to his hand.

Injuries to players are a staple of the inter-county manager gig. Having been removed from his players in recent months, Kiely will be enthused about working with them again and the performaces of some was a heartening sight on Saturday night.

The first match was characterised by sparkling scoring bursts from forwards. Pat Ryan was a late addition to the exchanges in that All-Ireland semi-final last year, just as he was the previous season when scooping home a vital goal against Cork. On Saturday he was centre-forward, the main attacking director for Doon and played in a manner that lived up to his inter-county status. The first white flag of the game was raised by Ryan, he had shot over five points by interval, another brace in the second half and all seven were supplied from open play.

pat-ryan-dejected-after-the-game Doon's Pat Ryan Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Ryan’s form illuminated the game but Barry Murphy’s dependable free-taking yielded 0-8 and Graeme Mulcahy shot 1-3 in defeat for Kilmallock. Doon’s defensive approach was in recognition of Mulcahy’s threat, he had greater numbers for company when he gathered possession as the game progressed.

The second game saw a notable spike in intensity, the memories of last October’s county final a factor in increasing Na Piarsaigh’s appetite and reinforcing Patrickswell’s determination to dig in. From that Limerick 2019 loss to Kilkenny, there were six participants in action here with all those familiar names of Casey (x2), Byrnes, Lynch, O’Donoghue and Gillane involved.

Seanie O’Brien’s red card damaged Patrickswell’s ambitions yet it was notable that their big name trio of Byrnes, Lynch and Gillane kept leading the fight as they combined for 0-18 of the team’s 0-20 total.

aaron-gillane Patrickswell's Aaron Gillane Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Na Piarsaigh’s wider array of strength and class told. Conor Boylan and David Dempsey looked sharp, the former scoring a standout point when he galloped from deep in his defence before lobbing a point while the latter displaying his opportunism in knocking home the game’s only goal.

The interest did not stop there in the weekend schedule in the inter-county sense with Kyle Hayes helping his Kildimo-Pallaskenry club make a big jump to the senior ranks in last night’s Limerick intermediate decider.

Injury questions to consider, marquee names appearing in positive form and squad players pushing hard for greater inclusion. There are big occasions looming for Limerick with Clare on the second last weekend of October, a game that doubles up as a league final.

Plenty food for thought for Limerick’s management then as they begin to step up their activity once more.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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