In his weekly Limerick Leader GAA column, Martin Kiely looks back at the success of the Limerick minor hurlers in 2013 and ahead to the challenges of 2014.
Winning both the senior and minor Munster hurling championships in the same year is, by any standards, an outstanding achievement. Limerick supporters had become accustomed to season after season of watching on as other counties took the silverware and enjoyed that special feeling that only winners understand.
For the first time in 73 years Limerick would achieve the double and in many ways it was reward to all those who have worked so hard in clubs to produce players good enough to play at the highest level. Last week I wrote about the seniors but for me the high point of the year was watching the Limerick minors winning the Munster Final after a replay - that night in Thurles was special and the joy was written all over the faces of the players, their parents but most of all the supporters who could now see a real future for Limerick hurling once again.
It has taken years to develop the underage set up in Limerick and that win over Waterford meant a huge amount to all those who have left no stone unturned to advance our players from U-14 to minor. Such progress didn’t just happen, the base was low and it needed direction and while it has taken a while to see the fruits of their labours they are now building on a very firm foundation.
Brian Ryan, as manager of the Limerick team, has taken it to a very high level and he was well supported by Gerry Wallace and a strong selection committee which included Eamonn Cregan. Ryan came to the table with much experience and he wasted little time in setting out his agenda. I have watched many teams both in Limerick and outside over many years and I would say that the Limerick minor hurling setup would match, and better in many cases, what I have seen over those years. Limerick travelled to Thurles for their opening game and that is never easy particularly at minor level. Tipperary, All Ireland champions of the previous year, had a cracking team but Limerick were well up for this battle and you got the sense early that they had done their homework on the Premier outfit.
Limerick had struggled to win opening round games in minor but June 26 might well be remembered as the evening the fortunes of Limerick hurling changed. It was a mighty evening for hurling and the well cut sod in Thurles suited Limerick. It was nip and tuck for the opening half with Tipperary leading by two points at half time 0-12 to 0-10. Limerick lifted their game by some degree in the second half and while only three points separated the teams in the end it’s fair to say that Limerick played the best hurling of this half.
Tom Morrissey made a massive catch and it helped Limerick secure a strong hold in this game. Morrissey did well but referee Damien Fox awarded a free to Limerick and Ronan Lynch made no mistake. Limerick drove on from here and Lynch would finish with 1-7 to his credit. At last progress had been made and with that win this young team had secured a place with the seniors on July 14 at the Gaelic Grounds.
This was a magical day for Limerick hurling and the minor final set the tone for the day. Waterford had come to Limerick with a really good team and for long stages in the game they had Limerick in real trouble.
This was one of the best Waterford teams at this level I had seen for many years and they had class in all the right areas. Limerick were struggling to cope with the sort of hurling Waterford were producing and when they led by eight points it looked like the dream was well and truly over. This Limerick minor team reminded me of past Limerick senior teams, they never stopped working and inch by inch they started to drag Waterford down. They hit some great points and we could see Waterford were now the ones in trouble. Waterford had thought they had this game in the bag but Limerick proved otherwise and in the end they were lucky to have survived another day. The game finished level and in so many ways it was the making of many of the Limerick players.
The replay took place in Thurles on July 23 and once more it proved to be a cracking game of hurling. In watching this game I could see a number of players from both Limerick and Waterford who will play at the highest level in the future. Twenty nine years had passed since Limerick had won the minor title and little did I think then that we would have to wait so long for our next title.
Brian Ryan and his management team had learned most from the drawn game and his team were outstanding from start to finish. It was the most heartening and complete display I have seen from a Limerick team at any level for so many years. The game had everything, both teams produced some outstanding scores and the crowd of just over six thousand were treated to a classic.
Ryan and Co had made some switches just as the game started and they proved to be crucial. Waterford never reacted and it cost them dearly. Limerick led at the break 1-7 to 2-2. Cian Lynch, after a Ronan Lynch delivery, let rip with a ground stroke and it gave Limerick some space at the break.
The second half will long be remembered as both teams showed real talent in the way that they hurled. Limerick went ahead and credit to Waterford they hauled them back but this minor team played with so much craft and class on the night.
They also showed great courage to rally, Cian Lynch, Ronan Lynch and sub Tom Morrissey hit some great scores while David Dempsey and Pat Ryan also added crucial points. Limerick won in the finish by three points but I would have to mention the performance of Stephen Bennett who scored the three Waterford goals.
It was a special night to witness this victory; I could see what it meant to the management team who had put in so much effort and also to Joe McKenna who has been the guiding hand behind Limerick underage development for the past few years. I watched him as Gerry McManus embraced him as the cup was presented to Richie English. McManus has played a key role in a quiet way over the past few years in building up the underage system in Limerick. This win saw parents, players and supporters cry on the pitch in Thurles.
The All Ireland semi final produced its own drama and I have covered it many times in these pages but this Limerick team, its management team and the Limerick supporters were very badly let down by Croke Park. Big business was put before the Limerick players and our games in general and that has to be a sad reflection on how Croke Park handled this matter.
Limerick will be contenders once again in 2014 but I stress this team would want to take nothing for granted.
I know well how good Tipperary are, who they will meet in the first round in 2014, and I also see Cork making real progress. Tipperary has a very good team for next year and if the Limerick players take it for granted for one second then they can book their holidays.
The biggest task facing everyone is keeping these lads injury free and fresh and I don’t like what’s happening at one school in particular in Limerick where young lads are being asked to do crazy stuff at this level. Time for common sense not ego. The year just gone will be remembered for many reasons in Limerick but for me winning the Munster minor hurling title is my special moment of the year because I know what management, players and parents did to make it happen.
This team will supply players for the future for Limerick and in some ways it reminds me of some of the quality we got from the minor winning team of 1984.
Enjoy it lads but never stop working to bring your game to the next level.