In this week’s column Martin Kiely looks back to Limerick’s All Ireland semi-final clash with Kilkenny.
Before I deal with the drama and excitement of last Sunday in Croke Park I think it’s important that I nail something very early in this week’s page.
Before a ball was struck in this championship Limerick had to deal with Donal O’Grady walking away from the Limerick set up. Readers will know my views on that saga but very early on I urged people to get behind TJ Ryan and his management team for the sake of Limerick hurling.
Supporters played their part and I think TJ Ryan has also lived up to his side of the bargain. Limerick needed one of our own and that has brought stability to Limerick hurling and without much debate TJ Ryan was handed three more years in charge and that was a wise decision. That will afford him enough time to have a really good go at bringing honours to Limerick. It takes a while to learn the intercounty trade and this season will have taught TJ Ryan many lessons that he can bring forward. He will have to make hard calls and be ruthless in his quest for glory but he will need time and space to strengthen his back room but also to find new players and develop others. I will deal in more detail on this in the coming weeks.
The game in Croke Park last Sunday was packed with drama from start to finish and Limerick played with great honesty and pride. They took the game to Kilkenny and showed the greatest hurling team respect but not fear.
This was a day that all Limerick people can be proud of. We saw our hurlers display raw passion in the hopes that they could end a forty one year championship spell in beating Kilkenny.
They came close so close but in the end they over played the ball as the finish line became visible. They left everything on the field, they worked hard and showed they have the steel required to survive at this level.
They forced Kilkenny to dig deep into the their reserves and when they did they produced the experience and craft that has seen the most decorated team in hurling over the line on so many occasions.
Limerick played the majority of the best hurling in the opening half, they looked good on the ball and they forced Kilkenny into a very defensive type of game.
What was clear from the very start was that Limerick was up for the battle. They won huge amounts of possession around the middle third but they all too often failed to deliver fast ball to Shane Dowling who was having the better of JJ Delaney.
Declan Hannon had his best ever game at this level and finished with five points against Brian Hogan.
Limerick after twenty minutes led 0-7 to 0- 4 but it should have been more than that. We had chances but we were not economical enough and this allowed Kilkenny into the game.
Long before it was clear on the scoreboard Kilkenny were making traction.
Richie Hogan started to control midfield and Michael Fennelly did massive work. Colin Fennelly caused big problems for Wayne McNamara and his points provided a foundation for Kilkenny’s half time position. Kilkenny focused on Paudie O’ Brien and it provided openings for them but of more importance Limerick had started to lose their way and grip that was so visible in the opening twenty minutes.
Shane Dowling had a half chance of a goal with his flick but other than that just as it has been in other games goal chances have been hard to come by. Kilkenny finished the half better with good points form Padraigh Walsh and Michael Fennelly they had cut the Limerick margin to one point.
Kilkenny know how to score goals and when the Limerick defence admired a ball it was Richie Hogan who flashed onto it to score a super goal.
He had to take a hit from Wayne McNamara on route but it didn’t halt the gallop of the well built Hogan who showed great feet and hands in his finish.
That saw Kilkenny have an unlikely lead at the break but it was a sucker punch for Limerick who had done most of the good hurling in conditions that were truly terrible. Huge credit to both teams for the manner they adopted in such conditions.
The second half won’t be remembered for hurling quality but it will be remembered for the quality of the battle. Other teams might well have fallen away against Kilkenny but Limerick stood tall, they showed great heart and passion to fight as the rain thundered from the sky.
If someone had told you going into Croke Park that Kilkenny would score only one point from play in the second half you would feel pretty confident of victory. However, this game was not just about scores it was about a physical battle of will, mind and Kilkenny’s experience in this regard is well tested.
Limerick pushed them in every way but some of our players were not having a good day at the office.
David Breen despite starting well was not making progress, Kevin Downes was in difficulty but I wouldn’t have taken him off. This game required strength in the closing stages and Sean Tobin was always going to find this difficult. Donal O’Grady was burning oil long before he was taken off but the same player was lucky not to have been sent off.
Limerick held Kilkenny scoreless for more than fifteen minutes in the second half and that saw them go two points clear with less than twenty minutes to go. It was a good position to be in but subs were always going to be important in this game and when Richie Power came on the field he was to make a telling impact on the outcome of the game.
He ran at the Limerick defence and caused huge problems and when he flicked home a goal it undid all of the good work Limerick had done. That score cut the oxygen supply to the Limerick players, it drained them and empowered Kilkenny who now put lots of men and pressure anytime a Limerick man had the ball.
Limerick battled with all that they had but they made mistakes and panic became part of their play and Kilkenny knew it.
Many Limerick players did very well. Seamus Hickey was outstanding and will win the All Star for his position, Richie McCarthy was rock solid while Paul Browne and Shane Dowling for me deserve All Stars for the way they played. Defeat was hard to take but we can be all very proud of the way they played and represented Limerick.
I thought the Limerick management became too entangled in the emotion of the day, they hugged the white line and that is never a good place when making decisions. Another man was up and down to TJ Ryan from the stand offering instructions and he didn’t need that.
Lessons to be learn in this regard but overall a superb effort by all concerned.