HomeFootball‘The Tailteann Cup is serving us well’ – Jimmy Lee’s Treaty boys...

‘The Tailteann Cup is serving us well’ – Jimmy Lee’s Treaty boys looking up again after annus horribilis

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From beating Carlow in last year’s Tailteann Cup to that clash with the Faithful, Limerick football has been through the mill, having three different managers inside a year. Given their run of form, it’s easy to forget that the Treaty topped their group last year despite losing their final-round game to Wicklow.

In their quarter-final they lost to Laois to bring an end to their year. When the McGrath Cup fired into life in January, it brought defeats to Kerry and Tipperary before a disastrous league campaign saw them lose seven out of seven and slip into the basement division.

Cork handed out defeat No 12 in the Munster Championship and Down were too strong in the opening game of the Tailteann Cup for unlucky 13.

There was at least some mitigation. The extent of the rebuild required in the Treaty County was significant. Against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, manager Jimmy Lee handed out six full championship debuts and blooded three more newcomers off the bench. Josh Ryan, Darren O’Doherty, Brian O’Sullivan, Cormac Woulfe, Emmet Rigter and Bryan Nix all started with Jamie Baynham, Shane Costello and Ruadhan O’Connor coming off the bench. He also outlined that he had just 17 of the 2023 panel for this year, and just 11 of those were available of selection in Cork.

“I know other counties have done the same [rebuilt] but I suppose they had more depth,” Lee says. “We just haven’t had people up to the speed of inter-county and these lads are getting there. But it’s like everything in life you are always hoping you can get there quicker, but it’s a journey and we just have to go at it.”

Their win over Offaly came 364 days after the last success. They followed that up by beating London and after not winning for a year, they are looking for their third victory in as many weekends when they welcome Tipperary to Rathkeale in a Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final tomorrow.

“[The Offaly win] was extremely important for the head space and belief. That the work they’d been doing and the heavy lifting they had been doing was getting them there. It was good for their own self-belief and value. It was extremely important.

“[The Tailteann Cup] is definitely serving us well. Without it, you might have gone a year without a win and that would create doubt. But in the Tailteann Cup we have two wins now and from that point of view it has benefited us.

“It gives them a longer window to be together. And it builds character amongst themselves. They are coming from different clubs and then they come together as one. They probably spend nearly eight months a year challenging each other on the field and you are trying to get it together for a few months. So this interaction and development is good. I’d be a huge advocate of it.”

​Like many other teams Limerick have struggled with injury. Senior man Iain Corbett has missed huge chunks of the season, as has Hugh Bourke. Having been involved with Newcastle West for the past number of seasons, Lee is acutely aware of the ‘12-month’ ask on county players.

“The physical toll, realistically, is going from the club into the county. Just to give you an example the Newcastle West players finished on November 14; we played Clonmel in Thurles and in November 24 they were going back in. I’m only using that as an example …

“That’s the issue I see and there are better people than me trying to sort it but any good club player or clubs are being penalised because the club season is overlapping and unfortunately I see with Newcastle lads, a good few of them have broken down in terms of injuries because of the stresses and strains. We are asking them to go 12 months of the year like.”​

For now, though, eyes remain on the prize. Beat Tipperary and Limerick will get more time together and a chance to develop.

“We played them [Tipperary] in the McGrath Cup and at club level I would have seen Clonmel Commercials up front. To be fair, they have good footballers, there’s no doubt about that. And like ourselves they are trying to put things in place, trying to develop stuff.

“But it’s a derby game so it has all them ingredients, and with it being the Tailteann there’s that bit of bragging right so it’s important we are prepared and ready to rock when the time comes.”

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