By Cian O'Connell
Séamus Hickey remains adamant about the importance of integrating exciting emerging talent into successful teams.
The former Limerick star expects John Kiely to continue to afford new players opportunities in the 2024 Allianz Hurling League.
"Realistically, for the last two years, to sustain the level that they've set, there has to be new blood every year, somebody different putting up their hand," Hickey says.
"Particularly the 2023 league was refreshing for me. John Kiely gave so many different younger players chances, U20s guys, or guys just out of it.
"You had Mike Houlihan who had a super year in the league, didn't feature in the championship, but got a really good chance. It reminded me of Billy Drennan with Kilkenny having a tremendous league.
"I could rattle off a heap of names - Adam English, there's a heap of young guys coming at every position. When I think of Paudie O'Dwyer's younger brother....
"To sustain where they're at, it can't be the same guys that carry it. The backbone of that team is changing. When I see the likes of Declan (Hannon) at six and the different injuries he's had, and the reality is he's there nearly as many years as I was, you're looking for somebody to stand up that's capable of doing it.
"Colin Coughlan was there for a number of years. I'd love to see him step in and take a chance. He's got chances, but it's such a hard team to break into."
Hickey is hopeful that Seán Finn, who suffered a serious knee injury during the year, will be available in 2024 also. "Please God, Sean Finn will be fit and ready to go after his second cruciate [injury], which is a hard one," Hickey adds.
"The reality is that the league, to me, should be a Royal Rumble in the Limerick dressing room of fellas looking for spots. They are hard earned.
"I would argue that in the Munster Championship, the impact off the bench wasn't what it needed to be, and was what made Munster quite difficult."
Finn's return will be a significant boost to Limerick. "If you're talking about leadership, standard setting, for me he's an exceptional character," Hickey says. "It's amazing how he takes care of himself away from the field.
"The last time he did his cruciate, he came back Sheamus from WWE. I have no idea what's going to happen now. If he puts another load of muscle on top of what he already has, he's going to be a brick wall. That's the nature of the dude he is."
"I'd hope to see him back and be in the mix with the likes of Mike Casey, Barry Nash, who has been an exceptional deployment in the corner, Dan Morrissey, Mr Utility, wherever he goes, he plays so well.
"He's one of the guys who is so underrated in what he's given to Limerick. I'm delighted he's got his All-Star. The two Morrissey brothers, a lot of the time, they fly under the radar with what they contribute.
"Then you're talking about picking three guys from that group of players. That's very tough. Then you've got Richie English coming back from his cruciate [injury] in the mix again."
Hickey wants Limerick to unearth a few more options further up the field. "In the backs, they are formidable, but I would say midfield and fowards is where they really need guys to step up," he says. "That's realistically where you'd deploy subs.
"You'd deploy subs into the full-forward line, half-forward line, midfield. That's where Limerick need guys to emerge."