Not many would have seen it coming ahead of this year's Munster championship, but Limerick are now dangerously close to being knocked out of the All-Ireland series.
The Treaty County have claimed three back-to-back All-Ireland titles, and four of the last five Liam MacCarthy crowns, but an underwhelming start to the Munster round-robin phase has them facing down a must-win game against the improving Cork on the final day of the championship.
Though Limerick could just as easily have taken the win against Clare in their second game, it was the Banner who came out on top, and more dropped points against Tipperary this weekend leave them on just three points after three games.
The imperious Limerick have swept all before them in recent years, leaving many perplexed as to the root cause of their slow start to 2023.
On The Sunday Game, Kilkenny legend Jackie Tyrrell was part of the punditry panel. Analysing the draw against Tipperary in Thurles, he suggested that the pressure of having a constant target on their back may be weighing Limerick down, and that there were now visible signs of fatigue showing for the All-Ireland champions.
Limerick: Jackie Tyrrell dissects "fatigue" in Treaty County
Sunday's game between Tipperary and Limerick was yet another Munster hurling classic, with Tipp sealing a late draw with a free deep in injury time.
In truth, they were on balance the better of the two sides, as the Premier County continue to improve after a dire 2022 championship.
Limerick, on the other hand, continue to underwhelm, and their home game against Cork next Sunday is now must win. After a nervy win against Waterford, a defeat at home against Clare, and a draw in Thurles, Limerick sit outside the top three in Munster on points difference behind the Rebels, meaning they will likely need to beat them in Limerick next week to have any hope of progressing to the All-Ireland series.
There are visible signs of physical and mental fatigue in Limerick team, says @MrJackieTee #sundaygame
📺 Watch live https://t.co/ZfZ9mA9XTY
📱 Report https://t.co/oEuaDVGhLU pic.twitter.com/XeSBd3aAEB
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) May 21, 2023
Speaking on The Sunday Game after another thrilling day of Munster hurling action, Jackie Tyrrell addressed the lacklustre performances which have set in for this Limerick team in recent weeks, and suggested the pressure brought on by their constant success was beginning to take its toll on John Kiely's side:
I'd say they're a bit confused at the minute. There's definitely visible signs of mental and physical fatigue with this group of players. You can see it in their crispness of play, ball to hand being dropped, you see guys today making errors - Nicky Quaid dropped a ball today, you'd never see him doing it - poor selection of shots.
It's that mental baggage of constantly having a target on your back. Every time they play, they're targeted, there's an All-Ireland - even seeing now the rumours about Gearoid Hegarty. All that stuff weighs heavily on a team that are constantly trying to improve standards and win game after game and All-Irelands.
I think it's starting to catch up with them and it's manifesting in three substandard performances back-to-back. You felt, if there was going to be any change, it would be the last three weeks when they had time to sit down, see what was going on, get freshness back into this team, get a bit of zip.
We didn't see it today, we didn't see the Limerick juggernaut that we've become accustomed to.
There is undoubtedly a huge level of focus on the Limerick side after their relenteless winingness over the past few years.
The rumours which emerged this week surrounding Gearoid Hegarty are but one example of this, and it is visible that other teams treat their meeting with Limerick as a pseudo-All-Ireland.
They have proven themselves more than capable of dealing with the pressure over the past three years, but this is one of the sternest tests yet of the John Kiely era.