In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks back on a memorable Munster final occasion for Limerick
With minutes to go to the final whistle, Limerick supporters had formed a ring of green and white around the pitch, John Allen and his selectors were surrounded by photographers and unlike other occasions of the past, both they and the supporters could afford to smile.
As the final whistle sounded they ran from the four corners happy in the knowledge that years of pain and heartbreak had ended and Limerick had enjoyed a nine points winning margin over a fancied Cork team.
This was a day to savour, 20,000 supporters stood in front of the Mackey Stand – their flags dancing like the rays of the sun. They clapped, sang and above all they witnessed Donal O’Grady hold the cup that had not been held by a Limerick man in seventeen years.
It was a magical day for Limerick hurling and let’s hope this win will be the foundation stone for the years ahead. For so many years Limerick could only look on and watch others collecting the silverware, the players must have wondered deep down what they had to do to reach the steps and hold the cup high.
Many have made a contribution during the barren spell - both on the field and on the line and their contribution should not be forgotten during this time.
A few short years ago some men shouted stop. They did so for the right reasons and had they not I doubt we would be champions today. This Munster final won’t make it into the classics but that won’t worry Limerick, this game was all about winning - pretty or otherwise.
From early morning the people started to gather on the Ennis Road, wearing the colours, eating the sandwiches and savouring the atmosphere of Munster final day. We missed the Pecker Dunne playing the banjo but others tried to fill the gap. The Limerick supporters, like the good army were in the trenches early, it was about sending a message and by God did they do that.
The supporters were outstanding and left Cork in no doubt as to who was in charge of the terraces. From the very early stages in this game Limerick were hurling better than Cork but more importantly they expressed the confidence needed to win Munster finals. Limerick was winning some of the key positions and had some good early points.
It was a surprise to me that Cork opted to place Seamus Harnedy at full forward given that he had such a good game in the half forward line against Clare. Cork made other changes and in truth they made little difference.
It was noticeable from an early stage that the Limerick players arrived with the mind set of playing from the opening whistle. They won a lot of ball in those early minutes and should well have got more scores. Many of the Cork players showed immaturity at this level and lacked the composure to convert the many chances they had in the opening half.
Limerick went without a score for eleven minutes during the opening twenty minutes. Cork managed to convert four during this time but they had goal chances and their efforts at taking them suggested it was not going to be their day.
The Limerick defence were under a bit of pressure but Richard McCarthy was holding the first line of defence together and overall had a good game. The Cork forwards were struggling to win clean possession and it appeared to me they lacked the intensity to really challenge Limerick.
In the opening 20 minutes Cork won only three out of ten deliveries to their full forward line and this was putting them under real pressure. The quality of hurling at times was mediocre as both teams made many mistakes. While Limerick was playing the better hurling they found it hard to score, Nickie Quaid was getting massive length into his puck outs against the wind and David Breen was winning the majority of them. Breen worked hard but he needs to become more aware of those around him. Seamus Hickey also had his best game in some time, and his work rate deep in defence helped his team greatly.
It was a very open game of hurling and as mentioned lacked the bite and intensity that may well lie ahead, players had time and space on the ball that will not be accorded in another arena. Limerick won 13 out of 20of their own puck outs while Cork won twelve out of fifteen in the first half. It was interesting to see that Limerick lost possession 28 times to Cork’s 22 in the opening half.
As a game it lacked fluency and this was not helped by referee James McGrath whose handling of the game was very poor. The Limerick full forward line got only four direct deliveries in the opening 32 minutes. Was that down to our lack of directness or Cork’s play?
The sides were level heading into injury time when the biggest talking point of the game happened. Pat Horgan was red carded very harshly for a foul on Paudie O’ Brien and that had a major influence on the game. The sides were level at half time but Cork had a mountain to climb.
Cork only scored two points in the opening 20 minutes of the second half by which time Limerick had added seven. James Ryan had an outstanding game for Limerick, he scored three great points but true to form he worked like he did when just sixteen years old, he won a County championship medal. Cork had three points in a row between the nineteenth and twenty fourth minutes but they would score no more.
Limerick finished with seven points in a row, the subs introduced made a telling impact, Dowling, Downes, King and Allis did very well but it was fitting that Niall Moran came on and hit a fine point.
To win a Munster championship beating Tipperary and Cork is quite special. It was a most enjoyable day for Limerick hurling and we are now just a game away from bridging the forty years since our last success in Croke Park.
John Allen and his management team have done well and the team is developing with every game. Very few will fancy playing Limerick now and over the next five weeks the team can focus on winning a place in the All Ireland final.
Progress has been made and credit to all concerned – the young players have come good for Limerick.
Credit where credit is due
Credit where it’s due to all concerned with making the Gaelic Grounds and the entire fixture a major success for Limerick last Sunday.
I thought this was the best ever presented fixture by Limerick, the field was top class, the small details were well covered and overall this was a job well done.
Limerick was on show last Sunday and from what I observed it was full marks to all concerned.
The entire occasion was helped by the atmosphere, but the Limerick County Board, who won’t be used to receiving compliments from me, managed this Munster Final very well and credit also to the Gardaí who did a fine job in traffic management.