Limerick ready to go ‘flat to the mat’ against Kilkenny:

By John Harrington

John Kiely says Limerick will be going ‘flat to the mat’ against Kilkenny in Saturday’s Allianz Hurling League semi-final and aren’t thinking about what impact that might have on their Munster Championship campaign.

Were Limerick to beat Kilkenny and Clare to beat Tipperary in the other League semi-final on Sunday, then Limerick and Clare would meet in the League Final just two weeks before they clash again in the first round of the Munster SHC.

Perhaps not the ideal scenario, but Kiely will happily play whatever cards he’s dealt.

“We all know we don’t live in an ideal world,” said the Limerick manager at yesterday evening’s launch of the Munster SHC.

“It’s far from it. Listen, the theorists will say this is far from ideal but what do you do? You go out and play each game as best as you can, you go out to try win every game you can, I think everybody who knows us by now knows we don’t contemplate like that, I don’t believe any of the teams do, to be honest with you.

“In my opinion every team goes flat out every day to try and win. So we’ll be going flat to the mat to try win each game we get an opportunity to play in, Saturday night, semi-final, that’s where our focus is. If we qualify for a final, great and we’ll go after that then but for the minute let’s try get out of our semi-final first. Anything after that is so far down the road it’s not on the radar.

“And plus, as you know, we are rotating players on a constant basis throughout the league and that will continue, even the injury list alone forces you to rotate, let alone having to think about rotating.

“I think all of the managers have said there is a developmental phase in the league to everybody’s mentality and approach to it in terms of team selection from week to week and that will continue right to the very end for us anyway for as long as we are in it.”

Limerick will be without an number of injured players for Saturday’s match – Kyle Hayes, Darragh O’Donovan, Mike Casey, Fergal O’Connor, Dan Morrisey, and Colin Coughlan – but will still field a very formidable team.

They’ve played 37 players so far during an unbeaten League campaign to date, with Cathal O’Neill the only player to have featured in every match.

He’s arguably been the biggest plus point from a Limerick perspective because he’s excelled at centre-back since being switched from attack to defence.

Kiely admits his performances in the pivotal defensive position have given Limerick a handy new string to their bow ahead of the championship.

“Cathal hadn’t played any Fitzgibbon Cup this year. This was his first year solely with Limerick and he had a good off-season so he was in a great place to push on and take on the challenges. It’s been a new departure for him playing in the backs with us. He has done exceptionally well. I think he’s enjoyed his hurling there as well. That’s always good to see and we’ll see where it goes. But it’s a nice one to have that in our back catalogue of reference points for him. He can play 6, he can play 7 or he can play 5 for us now easily. He could equally go and play midfield or half-forward if we saw the need as well. It gives us great flexibility and hopefully for him he’ll get enjoyment out of it as well.”

“We tried it out in an in-house game last year at one stage but we didn’t get too many opportunities to do it. It was something I thought about last year but this year we just got opportunities to do it. When opportunity knocks, you try to maximise the benefit that you can get from it.”

“He’s just a great athlete. He’s a big, tall lad. He’s a good athlete, a good distributor of the ball and he’s a smart guy. He’s able to learn quickly. Listen, you don’t know until you see it. When we saw it, we liked it so it’s a win-win.”

This time last year, when many people were predicting Limerick would steamroll all before them on their way to winning provincial and All-Ireland titles, Kiely stubbornly beat the drum that they’d be put to the pin of their collar to even get out of Munster.

He was ultimately proven correct and is expecting the provincial campaign to be just as ferociously contested this year.

“Is it possible to be tighter? It’ll be exceptionally tight again. Exceptionally tight. I don’t know how many games there have been in total but I’d imagine that 75 per cent of those games have been decided by a margin of three points or less. I think it’ll be really, really tight and very unpredictable. It’ll be great.

“Of course everybody wants to come out of it and everybody wants to be successful. But knowing you’re going into something as competitive as that has a great appeal to it as well because you know you’re going to be put to the pin of your collar. And if you do get out the other side of it, it’ll be a significant achievement.

“We won’t be looking too far down the road anyway, that’s for sure. Last year Waterford could have beaten us the first day. Clare beat us the second day. Tipp drew with us the third day. Cork pushed us right the way to the line the last day. You just have to take it week by week, game by game and just try to get those five points some way.”