LIMERICK may be facing the best team their manager, John Allen, has ever seen but they are eagerly looking forward to challenging champions, Kilkenny in the All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-finals on Sunday.
This has been a solid season of learning for the Limerick squad and their new backroom team led by Mr Allen, the former Cork chief, and the championship dream is far from over as far as they are concerned.
“We are facing the best team I have ever seen,” the former Cork manager said. “Kilkenny’s achievements over the past number of years have been terrific, and while you recognise that, you must have belief and faith in your own capabilities.
“There is no point in turning up unless you feel you have a chance.”
Mr Allen didn’t make any suggestions beyond that about the possible outcome of Sunday’s clash, but he was satisfied his players were ready to give a good account of themselves.
They did so against Tipperary in quarter-final of the Munster championship, but failed to complete the job when they had the opposition on the run entering the close 10 minutes or so.
However, Limerick regrouped smartly after that and they have since scored good wins in the Qualifiers over Laois (6-21 to 1-11), Antrim (8-26 to 1-15) and their bogey side this season, Clare (3-18 to 1-20).
“We have a hard working and disciplined young group,” Mr Allen said of his charges on Shannon side. “I could not speak highly enough about them. They are exceptionally dedicated, and anything we have asked of them they have done because they want to improve as hurlers.”
With good support from the County Board, and a top class working relationship with selectors who share his vision of hurling, he said he was working in “an environment that could hardly be more positive”.
That was good news after the turmoil Limerick hurling went through not so long ago, and after four outings in the championship to date, optimism was growing in the county again.
“Basically we are working with a very young bunch,” Mr Allen continued. “Only a couple of the players are heading for 30, but yet they are well used to hurling at a high level from colleges level and so on.”
He said players learn something virtually every day they play a game, so this championship has been a serious learning curve for his charges. They entered the championship knowing the gap between Division IA and B hurling could be difficult to bridge, but he has been greatly encouraged by the way the players have applied themselves to the challenge.
Players, selectors have learned
Limerick, he said, had reached the stage now where the selectors had learned a lot about the players, and the players had learned a lot about management. Now that the squad was more or less sorted, the hope was that the county could drive on in the future.
Limerick were in the quarter-finals on merit when others like Dublin and Clare didn’t make it. Now they were ready to have a go, and Galway’s win in the Leinster final was something of an inspiration, showing that anything could happen in hurling on any given day.
“I am hoping for that one big performance from the team,” Mr Allen said. “Kilkenny are still the favourites in the championship, and rightly so, and while we respect them we feel we have a lot to offer too.”