Limerick's rise likely to sustain
Resurgence about more than talent
Maurice O'Brien won All-Ireland U21 medals with his native Limerick in 2001 and 2002, the second and third leg of a thrilling trilogy of players that never so much as won a Munster title at senior level.
"They were part of a five-year plan at the time," the former Dublin hurler recalls now, back as part of Limerick's latest hurling project as a selector with their U21s.
"And they disbanded it, for some reason.
"It was a five-year plan, where they developed my age group and the four or five years ahead of us and that culminated in winning three All-Ireland under-21 titles.
"Plans were in place. But strength and conditioning, that wasn't a big thing in underage things at that time.
"So we developed to an extent but when we went from under-21 to senior, there was no real progression.
"They didn't try and hold on to players and develop them.
"It was just, at the time, there was a different senior manager every year and every manager had his own ideas so fellas were being brought in and then left out.
"But once you're out of the system, it's hard to come back in," he recalls. "All of our group had at least one, if not two, years on the outside because of the various senior manager's views. There was no continuation of keeping that group together."
The current bunch, he notes, are somewhat different.
It's not just how these Limerick hurlers play that distinguishes them from their predecessors, says O'Brien, it's how they think.
"All the old fears and all the stuff we heard of when we were Limerick hurlers, it doesn't apply to these guys.
"They have no fear of playing Tipperary," he points out, using the most striking example of the change in mindset from his and more recent vintages.
"Even this week, you hear fans or I even hear it around the place: 'they're going to Ennis'.
"Like, these guys don't care if they're going to Ennis or not. It's irrelevant."
"It's unheard of in Limerick but they're coming in used to winning and with that bit of confidence and swagger about them," O'Brien points out.
"All this stuff about Ennis. Oh, it's tight and it's this and it's that. It doesn't matter what it is if you're the better team."
This Limerick panel has a rare depth of talent.
When Seamus Hickey struggled on Jason Forde in Limerick's opener at full-back, they had Mike Casey - the brilliant Na Piarsaigh full-back - to come in.
When Aaron Gillane - the star forward on the Limerick U21 team that won last year's All-Ireland U21HC - was sent off for a petulant flick at Cork's Seán O'Donoghue a couple of weeks back - Shane Dowling started against Waterford last Sunday and scored 0-16 (14f).
"It was foreseen that that talent was coming down the tracks," O'Brien notes.
"It was a matter of 'are they going to cut it at senior level'?"
The early evidence is that they can.
And that Limerick have learned that hard way how best to nurture and develop their talent.