The reaction of one veteran Limerick supporter left me in no doubt as to how much this brilliant win meant to our county.
I had just made my way out of the Press Box when I noticed an elderly man coming towards me.
He wore a plaited green and white ribbon around his neck and long before he got near to me he extended his hand. We pressed the flesh and he asked me was I the man from the ‘Leader’ and I replied ‘yes’. I could see he was emotional. He uttered the words, ‘wasn’t that just great?’
He tried to continue but failed as tears flowed down his face. He shook my hand again and walked away. He needed to say no more because with every tear I could see what this win meant to him but also to every Limerick supporter who travelled to the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday.
It was a special win. As the match ended the Limerick supporters rushed onto the pitch - it was as if 40 years of pain needed to be vented and what I witnessed before me was so special. I have had the great pleasure of being at some of the great sporting events in different parts of the world but what I saw at the end of this game will linger in the mind forever.
Tipperary had travelled with such expectation and Limerick went into the game with very little to say, it was all about Tipperary and days before the game I was on Twitter and posted a tweet saying ‘beware of those with little to say’.
The white heat of summer and the championship can be the making or breaking of a man and thankfully in Limerick’s case it was the day when many players came of age. As I walked out to the grounds it reminded me of when as a child I would see the pony and traps heading over the bridge. That mode of transport has long since finished but it was proving to be a cracking day for those selling ice cream and as it turned out a cracking day for hurling.
Limerick came into this game perfectly poised to cause a major shock. The most important thing they had to do was to worry about themselves and perform and that they did. As a unit they hurled well and unlike Tipperary they hurled for each other. Limerick had good home support and I felt if they could be in the game nearing the finish it would come into play.
We could see from a very early stage that Limerick were going to battle. I like the way they stood up to Tipperary and when Limerick teams play with intensity and steel they will give a match to most teams.
In the opening 20 minutes of the game Limerick were ahead 1-5 to 0-3, that score line could have been bigger had other chances been taken.
The Limerick backs played very well, I was very impressed with the full backline and I thought Wayne McNamara showed some real character, he used his shoulder to good effect and landed some great hits. I also thought Stephen Walsh had his best ever day in the Limerick jersey. Tipperary did have goal chances in the opening half but Nickie Quaid brought off two great saves, the sort of saves that just might have bagged the All Star for him even at this early stage.
Limerick were lucky to be leading at half time as they only scored two points in the final quarter of the first half, Tipperary had 55% of possession in that first half and the ball was in play for only 17 minutes in total.
One of the most pleasing aspects of Limerick’s play was that they were working very hard. James Ryan played deep and worked himself into the ground; Paul Browne also acted like a hoover and delivered some great ball that resulted in scores.
Tipperary brought on John O’Dwyer at the break and it looked like he had turned the game very much in their favour. He landed three great points and when two more were landed Tipperary got level for the first time in the match. This was a spell where Limerick looked in real trouble, they were sloppy with some of their deliveries and overall Tipperary seemed to be finally getting to grips with the Limerick defence and when O’Dwyer scored a goal it appeared the Premier boys had taken a significant step forward and were now leading by four points.
Very few thought at that stage they would only score two points in the remaining 25 minutes of the game, whereas Limerick rattled over seven. The Limerick management used the bench well, made the right calls at the right time and John Allen deserves great credit.
Limerick never stopped working and when Shane Dowling landed the levelling point and followed with a monster free from 90 metres you could see the team finally believing in themselves. The finish was pulsating as Tipperary had the margin down to one with five minutes left in the game.
It would all come down to who had the greater stomach for battle now, what followed was a massive desire for victory by Limerick.
They smothered Tipperary in those final minutes, they cut the oxygen supply to them and every Limerick player showed a steel that we have longed to see for some time.
The fact was that Limerick wanted this game more; they showed a great hunger to win and this was matched by great honesty – where these two combine great deeds can be achieved.
This was the best team performance I have seen from Limerick in a long time and they will improve greatly from winning such a game. Limerick hurling needed a break and this will be a huge lift to club and county alike.
Over the past few years Limerick GAA has not acted in a united way and the reasons for that are well known.
Last Sunday’s win should be seen as a new era, a chance for Limerick GAA to work as one unit and in a united way. Let’s hope that is the case.
We can all learn from the tears of that elderly supporter.
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