AFTER six failed final attempts Limerick finally won a first Munster U-21 hurling championship title in 1986.
The victory came in the only previous decider between Limerick and Clare.
And, what a contest it was.
Both were chasing a first title when they met in the Gaelic Grounds on May 10.
Although Limerick had goals from Brian Finn, Liam Dooley and Gary Kirby, Clare looked destine for victory - that was until Pat Reale popped up with a late late point to ensure a replay, 3-9 each.
The replay was just five days later, in Ennis.
The Phil Bennis managed Limerick romped to a maiden victory, 2-10 to 0-3.
Goals from Reale and Donal Mulcahy helped Limerick to a 2-3 to 0-1 half time lead and by the final whistle the winning margin was 13-points.
Many were adding an U-21 medal to their minor success of 1984. Gary Kirby scored five points in the U-21 replay victory in ‘86.
“Clare had the beating of us in the Gaelic Grounds and we got a goal and a point in the last few minutes to draw it,” recalled Kirby.
He added: “The replay went to Ennis and we won that fairly comfortably”.
“We were both going for our first so it was a big occasion. We don’t have too many titles won in Limerick - there was a bit of expectation on us after winning the minor All Ireland two years before,” said the Patrickswell man.
“Two years on people were wondering if we were going to push-on or what and thankfully we did push-on and we won it in ‘86 and again in ‘87,” he said of the back-to-back U-21 titles of the late ‘80s.
Gary Kirby is now UL Fresher hurling manager and best positioned to judge Thursday’s second Shannonside derby.
“There is going to be nothing between them - it’s on the day. There is nothing between the teams - it should be a cracker,” said Kirby, who was speaking at the launch of the UL GAA Golf Classic, which takes place on August 21 in Limerick Golf Club.
“Standards are fierce high and to be honest I’m privileged to be involved with them. I have been involved in Limerick hurling all my life but to get involved with UL opens up more avenues to see the likes of Kilkenny and Galway coming into UL and when you see their attitude to the game - you see another side to it,” he said of his four year term as UL First Year hurling manager,
Thirty years on from his own elevation from underage ranks to senior hurling, much has changed.
“The standard was just as good but it’s the lifestyle and preparation that is way more professional than when we were playing,” said Kirby.
“To be honest I made the Limerick seniors when I was 19 and I was brought in to put weight on me - the young fellas now are doing that from 14-15 and are strong by 19 or even 17 so there is definitely a different structure there in terms of preparing bodies and people for when they do come to senior,” he explained.
This March, Kirby led UL to a first ever Fresher hurling championship title.
“It’s actually as good, if not better than county U-21 level,” he suggested.
“You have the cream of the crop - we would have approx 110 players going for trials to try and make two squads. We would have county players that play Fresher 2, they can’t make the Fresher 1 side - that’s the level of standard we are talking about. I remember the first year I was there we had Johnny Glynn, Galway and he was only a sub on our Fresher team and he is gone to different heights now,” outlined the former Limerick captain and coach.
“This year alone we had Mike Casey, Sean Finn, Tom Morrissey from Limerick and Ian Galvin, David Fitzgerald, lots from Tipperary, Waterford and so on.”
“It’s a high standard. Commitment is second to none. We would train at 7.30 in the morning because with college it’s the best time to get them all together because they can’t say they have lectures. You also find out those that are committed. We have fellas that drive in from Clare, from Tipperary early in the morning, it’s great,” said Kirby, who is joined in his UL management by former Limerick U-21 hurling manager Declan Fitzgerald and Alan Ryan (Tipperary).
What of Thursday night?
“I saw both games on television due to work - they were two different types of games. There were more open spaces in the Limerick match but there was a lot more bunching in the Clare game. In the Clare and Waterford game, it is disappointing that Waterford weren’t able to adapt to find a late goal. They still left two forwards up and never changed their plan. It was touch and go in both games. To be honest I felt while Limerick played very well against Tipp, Tipp missed some handy scores but it was a great battling performance from Limerick - they really fought hard, which at the end of the day is Limerick hurling. I don’t think we are a hurling team that can do the fine touches. We need to get into fellas and work hard and we will have to do that to beat Clare.”
LIMERICK U-21 1986: Francis O’Reilly; Anthony Madden, Anthony O’Riordan, Don Flynn; Ger Hegarty, Brian Finn, Mark Fitzgerald; Anthony Carmody, Mike Reale; Gary Kirby, Ray Sampson, Gussie Ryan; Donal Mulcahy, Pat Reale, Liam Dooley. Subs: Pat Barrett for Ryan, Pa Carey for Barrett.
CLARE U-21 1986: Brendan Flynn; Ger O’Loughlin, Johnny Lee, Sean McCarthy; Kieran O’Neill, John O’Connell, John Kennedy; Niall Romer, Seamus Cusack; Finbarr Carrig, Martin Cahill, Donal Cooney; Tony O’Sullivan, Thomas Quinlivan, Tommy Guilfoyle.