BRAVE and honest are words that best describe the performance of the Limerick minor hurling team in Croke Park last Sunday.
They came up short in the end but for effort and hard work they won many friends in this All Ireland minor hurling final. Croke Park continues to deliver pain for Limerick teams but after failing so badly in the Munster final this group of players showed they had more to offer and that they did.
This is the stage that Limerick teams need to be exposed to as much as they can and while this group of young players failed it should aid their long term development as hurlers. This September Sunday delivered lots of sunshine as the shadows of the stands mingled with the pristine manicured surface.
Tipperary came into the game as raging hot favourites and that suited Limerick. I have said a couple of times in the lead up to this game that I have seen few minor titles won with great ease and that didn’t change in this game. It was a close game as Limerick battled but overall Tipperary were the better team. Limerick were always chasing the game and that was never going to be enough.
Curtailing space was always going to be a part of the Limerick game plan and from a defensive point of view it worked for long stages. The most telling point of this game from a Limerick perspective was that as a unit they worked very hard. They might well have come close to winning this game had they taken the many chances they had but you always felt Tipperary had the ability to offer more.
With 20 minutes gone in the opening half it looked like Tipperary were coasting. They led 0-7 to 0-3. In that period Limerick won plenty of possession but poor use and often over playing it gave the advantage to Tipperary. The Limerick defence were under pressure but credit to them, they showed early to the ball and I liked the attitude they brought to Croke Park.
Players like Ciaran O’Connor, Conor Nicholas and Finn Hourigan were hurling well. Brian Nash, Ronan Connolly and Josh Adams made life difficult for many Tipperary players. Only one point separated the teams at half time and provided great hope for Limerick going into the second half. Brian Ryan was again on form both from frees and play and finished the day with 11 points to his name. He hit some really difficult frees in a venue that has tested the best of free takers. Darragh Carroll worked hard, to me he did a lot of unseen work and also scored his side’s second point. Michael O’Grady provided a superb pass to Brian Ryan for only our third point. Limerick dominated the last ten minutes of the first half, Ryan landing three points in a row to cut the margin to one at half time. It was a great spell of hurling from Limerick.
Chances did come Limericks way in both halves but sadly they weren’t taken. Limerick needed at least a couple of goals to make Tipperary sweat. Conor Boylan and Kyle Hayes had chances but on the day they didn’t come for them. Both Boylan and Hayes worked hard and I don’t think it’s the last we have seen of these lads. They have the capacity to improve further and I expect they will.
All bar six of the Tipperary scores came from play. That’s always a good sign of a team. Their first touch was excellent but also their vision to see the player in open space. What ever hope Limerick had they needed to start and build well in the early minutes of the second half. That didn’t happen. Tipperary cut a line down the middle and within a few minutes had landed 1-1. Those scores took the life out of Limerick. Indeed Tipperary should have been down to 14 men for a foul on Josh Adams.
The score board might not have suggested it but Tipperary were a fair bit ahead both in skill and application but I was so impressed with the honesty of the Limerick lads. If Limerick teams in the future show the same sort of courage in Croke Park then we won’t be far away from silverware.
Croke Park can be a crushing place, when the wave is against you it can be very difficult to hold focus but to the bitter end these young lads kept working. Limerick were given little chance going into the game but they used that to their advantage. The final margin between the teams is probably close to the mark. To win this game Limerick needed more from midfield and the forward area to really trouble Tipperary.
Like so many teams before them once more a Limerick side leaves Croke Park on the wrong side of victory. This ground has given us more than our fair share of tears. The work cannot stop in fact it must be taken up a few more levels to end the barren spell. The good thing is that the last few years has offered hope that some new young players might come through in the years ahead.
The gap between the top four and the rest is getting wider and it will take a massive step for Limerick to close the gap. For the young men we had in Croke Park last Sunday defeat will be hard to take but in time they will still come to value the experience they had on the sports greatest day.
It has taken a big effort by many involved to get to the All Ireland final and they can be proud of that. Most of all I think of the parents who have put in such a superb effort since these lads first came into the underage system a few years ago.
They will be better young men as a result of it and I think many will serve the county in the future. The players lost but they can hold their heads high because they wore the green and white with pride.