Holders Limerick begin league defence with Antrim fixture in Thurles:

By John Keogh Limerick Leader Sport

LIMERICK are in a unique position in welcoming Antrim to Semple Stadium in Thurles this afternoon in the first round of the Allianz Hurling League Division 1. John Kiely’s men begin the defence of the league crown they won last year in Tipperary as the pitch at the TUS Gaelic Grounds is under repair

Limerick’s preparation for the league ended last weekend with a defeat to the Premier in the charity game for the Dillon Quirke Foundation. It was an odd January for Kiely’s charges as they were unable to complete the Munster Hurling League due to three postponements of their game with Cork so it is hard to know where Limerick are at this moment.

Kiely has experimented in the one game they played against Clare with eight players making their senior debuts in the five-point win in Clarecastle.

Limerick won their 14th ever league title with victory over Kilkenny in the 2023 decider, the third under the stewardship of the Galbally man. In winning last year, Kiely joined Justin McCarthy and Pat Henderson in winning a trio of league crowns. That company are seven behind Brian Cody, of Kilkenny with 10.

Darren Gleeson brings an Antrim side back to his native Tipperary that is short of a number of high profile players from last season. Antrim are without the retired Neil McManus, as well as Domhnall Nugent, Ryan Elliott, Keelan Molloy and Eoin O’Neill from last year’s panel and Gleeson will have a difficulty in replacing that kind of talent.

Both sides have different ambitions for 2024 with Limerick gunning for five Liam MacCarthys’ in a row and Antrim hoping to survive at the top table. You have to go back to 2018 as to when the two counties last met in the league. It was Limerick that came away victorious from Pairc Mhuire in Cushendall with a 3-21 to 0-13 victory.

The game with Antrim in Thurles has a 2pm start. Limerick then play Westmeath the following week in Mullingar.