13 December 2020 10:39
It took extra-time and four Limerick goals and the locals in the crowd of 8,000 didn't disguise what beating Cork and winning something meant. In 2010, Dublin, whom they had beaten in the championship the previous summer, piled on 6-30 in a league game during a period when many first team members were boycotting the squad. From the outside, it was a time of crisis and disenchantment for Limerick hurling. a lot of ex-players were all involved in coaching by then," says Leo O'Connor, the manager of the under-21 team that evening. "So the players that were there in 2011, eight of 'em went on to play senior hurling with Limerick.
We always said when we had meetings that we were looking for three or four from from each squad to go on and play senior for Limerick. Declan Hannon scores a goal in Limerick's 2011 under-21 final win over Cork. O'Connor works as the business development manager for the Clare Champion these days and he is also the manager of the Offaly minor team this year. Like every Limerick hurling person, O'Connor is thrilled with the sensational flip in fortunes for the senior team over the decade. Four years after the U-21 Munster title, O'Connor managed the Limerick minors.
The same two teams would contest a riveting All-Ireland final that August and this time there would be no late surprises from the carnival grotesque. He was eye-witness to the radical flip, coming in as a youngster to the senior squad for the hugely turbulent seasons of 2009 and 2010 and establishing himself as they won a Munster championship under John Allen under 2013. We got back the following year to a semi-final with TJ. On the sublime late summer afternoon in Croke Park – golden sunshine, a full house, super-saturated colour - that Limerick edged out Cork to make it to the All-Ireland final, Kiely began his post match media conference with a stark request – or instruction – not to contact any of the players. In the two years since their championship, the Limerick squad has been heavily guarded.
And the strange thing is that Limerick's hurling revival has coincided when the city game is nowhere near as evident as it once was. Several city clubs have simply disappeared, with Treaty Sarsfields, county senior hurling champions three times in the 1950s being the most prominent of those. Soccer became the easier game to play. But in a year dominated by the nuclear potential of Dublin GAA, it must be tantalising for Limerick's hurling custodians to wonder how good things could become if they could fully revive all quarters of the city. I do think they have to try something different against Limerick but I wouldn't be surprised if they can raise the intensity even more." But Limerick are in a rare and exalted place, going into an All-Ireland final as favourites with a team expected to feature in future finals. His abiding memory of his final seasons is of the team sessions with Caroline Currid, the sports psychologist who has had a profound influence on Kiely's group. Two years on, Limerick will chase another senior championship in the depths of winter in an empty stadium. John Kiely, the senior manager whose uncompromising schoolmasterly style has been the front of house image for this team, was a selector with Leo O'Connor for that under-21 final nine summers ago. But it's safe to say that the anxiety has left Limerick hurling. "We were trying to replicate structures but now I think people will look to Limerick. THE PROSPECT OF Waterford winning the All-Ireland final without raising at least one green flag on Sunday appears unlikely. If this final descends into a point-scoring shootout, then Limerick will prevail eight or nine times out of 10. Galway failed to trouble the net in their semi-final exit to the champions and never looked capable of out-pointing John Kiely's side. The first thought of the Waterford players is now to sprint past their man and looking to create an overlap before spraying it into Stephen Bennett and Dessie Hutchinson. John Kiely is chasing his second All-Ireland title as senior manager. Waterford were the more improved team by the time the All-Ireland semi-finals came around. That said, Limerick rarely looked in trouble against Galway. They scored just 0-12 from play the last time out against Limerick, compared to 2-16 in the second-half alone against Kilkenny. Dessie Hutchinson and Austin Gleeson epitomise the work-rate of the Waterford players. That might sound very basic but the big difference in the Waterford team this year has been their hunger for work. Limerick huddle before the semi-final. Much of Limerick's good play goes through their trio of Gearoid Hegarty, Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey, who clipped 14 points between them in the semi-final. Limerick's zonal set-up on puck-outs has worked a treat so far – they've scored 1-31 on opposition restarts and will offer a different threat to Kilkenny, who went man-to-man. The St Patrick's club man has helped himself to 0-13 in four games and looks better with each passing week. If Waterford were to win, de Burca and Bennett would be their leading candidates. A big final performance could land Cian Lynch his second prize in three years, while Aaron Gillane, Sean Finn, Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey are also in the running. An All-Ireland final in December is not what we are used to, but very little that has happened this year has been what we are used to. Limerick and Waterford clash in the hurling decider in a repeat of this year's Munster final, which the Treaty men won. Limerick selector Donal O'Grady: "From looking at the lads from the outside as a supporter for a couple of years after I finished, the physique, the speed they're going at now, getting faster and faster and I was kind of questioning would I ever be able to mix it inside there. Waterford's Conor Prunty: "Limerick certainly have a lot of big men around the field, yeah, but I think a lot of teams do at the moment. You come across a lot of different types of teams and I think physicality is a word that gets thrown around. "But I think all hurling teams are physical. In 2008, when Waterford contested their first All-Ireland final for 45 years, the three weeks leading into the match were a carnival of blue and white. The surge of sentiment behind a Waterford team that had illuminated the championship for years made people see things that were a mirage. It is no surprise Limerick are contesting their second final in three years. The players are enjoying their hurling because they can express themselves by playing the game to their own individual strengths, while still managing to perform within certain parameters. Limerick are now a better team than they were when they won the All-Ireland two years ago. They have absorbed the lessons from last year's semi-final defeat by Kilkenny and improved their game accordingly. While it has reduced their pace in attack and lessened their goalscoring threat, it has given them the option to create an overlap, which makes it easier to score from their half-forward line. Expand Close Gearoid Hegarty scores his side's first goal of the game against Waterford during the league SPORTSFILE / Facebook Whatsapp Gearoid Hegarty scores his side's first goal of the game against Waterford during the league The Déise need to win primary possession in this area of the field – which, of course, is where Limerick link man Gearóid Hegarty can do most damage – and slow down the Treaty's superb counter-attacking game. It would also put the Limerick defence on the back foot and reduce the number of energy-snapping battles or rucks on the ground, which, in turn, would help the younger, lighter, faster Waterford players run at the Treaty's defence. The problem for Waterford is that, unlike Limerick, they are not yet battle-hardened, and there are inconsistencies in their forward line. Though their relatively youthful team is blessed with pace, they may find the Limerick game-plan so energy-sapping, that they may not last the distance. At times during the year, Limerick have looked complacent.