What better way for ‘The King’ to test his wits as an inter-county manager than against the current ruler and that’s exactly what will happen when Henry Shefflin brings his Galway squad to Limerick tonight to face a wounded Treaty.
Nobody saw that Limerick reversal in Wexford Park last Sunday coming as Darragh Egan produced an early masterstroke to leave the Yellowbellies full of confidence for the season ahead, but it will have privately left Kiely and Co seething. While it was all smiles and handsakes from John Kiely and Paul Kinnerk at the final whistle, I’m sure plenty of big names got a dressing down in training on Tuesday night. Losing back-to-back fixtures won’t be an option, even if it is only February.
Serial winners do not like that losing feeling, so they’ll be mad to make amends, while this tie has an added spice after last year’s bruising encounter behind closed doors when Kiely poked the bear with comments about Galway going to ground too easily.
Galway were on everyone’s lips at that stage, but what a difference nine months makes. Shane O’Neill has since departed with Joe Canning also retiring after Galway limped out of a championship where Limerick Waltzed to Liam MacCarthy for the third time in four years.
One of the landmarks of this rivalry was back in 2018 when Limerick rose from the dead to prevail in their league clash at Salthill before the dam burst later that year with a golden period suddenly unfolding.
Will Shefflin be looking for a similar statement win tonight? He won’t. As he stated himself, it’s phase one of the league and the first phase of his three-year project, but he will be eager to see if his younger players can survive a battle against a wounded animal in their own back yard.
This will give an early indication of where they stand right now and the direction which they might take under Shefflin. One area where they have huge scope for improvement is in that middle third where they must find a lot more energy and speed.
That was the one area where Waterford absolutely mauled them last summer and there is no better team to test your resources in that crucial sector than an all-action Limerick side.
It’s great to see Thomas Monaghan flying it again and this is a fella who could cement a place and be one of those Energizer bunnies in the middle third, while the return of the St Thomas’ contingent will be a big lift.
Henry could have a job picking them up after that soul-destroying defeat to Ballyhale, though, and their heads may be in Croke Park this afternoon rather than the Gaelic Grounds as they ponder what might have been. It was such a sickening way to lose and it brought back memories of when we lost in similar circumstances to Clarinbridge back in 2011 with De La Salle. That took me ages to get over and it really never leaves you.
Only for my wedding in April and the preparation and build-up taking my mind off hurling, 2011 could have been a write-off and the fact that Clarinbridge went on to win the final made it all the more heartbreaking. Galway have the best man possible to reintegrate them back into the fold and getting the likes of David Burke, Conor Cooney and Fintan Burke involved and thriving again, without the emotional burnout of it all, is crucial.
Success for Henry tonight is not a victory, the result is irrelevant. What he’s looking for is for players to front up to the game’s finest when it comes into the real heat of a battle. He’ll want bodies being put on the line.
One young Galway gun who shone last week was John Fleming – Ciarán Joyce (Cork), Tom Barron (Waterford) and Oisín Foley (Wexford) were other future stars to excel – and he could be a huge player in attack.
Kiely will still be scratching his head at how Limerick only hit 0-11 last weekend and with a surplus of options at the back, could he be forced to push Kyle Hayes or Barry Nash back into attack if the forwards misfire again, especially in Peter Casey’s absence.
We’ll know a little bit more by 9.0 tonight, but neither Henry nor Kiely will lose focus on the direction they want to go this season no matter what happens and I expect Limerick to respond in some style and earn the victory.
We will be treated to the All-Ireland club final everyone wanted to see earlier today as Ballyhale Shamrocks bid to go where no club hurling team has gone before by landing three in a row.
How many times have we seen teams scraping over the semi-final before delivering brilliance in a final? If TJ & Co get through this one, it will be their greatest achievement yet.
You’d be mad to write them off, but something is telling me that this is Ballygunner’s time.
While Ballyhale know and love Croke Park, it is the perfect pitch for Ballygunner and we saw how they hit another gear in Páirc Uí Chaoimh before Christmas.
Further intrigue is added with Ballyhale boss James ‘Joxer’ O’Connor hailing from Lismore and knowing what Ballygunner brings to the table having finished on the wrong end against them as both a player and a manager.
With injuries to Darren and Kevin Mullen, you’d wonder if they have anyone to hold the razor-sharp Dessie Hutchinson in wide open spaces where he should thrive and Ballygunner might just finally help a Waterford side climb up the Hogan Stand steps.
It would be wrong not to highlight the Roy of the Rovers story, and maybe the story of year, with the Harty Cup success of St Joseph’s Tulla last weekend proving that anything is possible.
Rumors of Clare’s demise are greatly exaggerated when it comes to underage talent and if these lads can be nurtured, the Banner will be beating strong in the not so distant future.
When they’re gray and old, they will recall that famous day and the history that they’ve made while there’s no sign of them stopping just yet either with the Croke Cup next on their minds.