2009 Limerick Primary Game team: (back) Colin Ryan, Barry Nash, John Nicholas, Eoghan McNamara, Ronan Lynch, Michael Collins, (front) Thomas Grimes, Colin Ryan, Eoin Ryan, Dan Joy, Darra O'Donovan RIP
THE Munster SHC semi final meeting of Limerick and Waterford in 2009 won’t live long in the memory.
Torrential rainfall was among the more memorable aspects of a dour 1-8 to 0-11 draw in Thurles. As captain Mark Foley led the Justin McCarthy managed Limerick onto the field, the boys and girls of the Primary Game formed a flag-waving guard of honour.
Eleven boys, 12-13 year olds wore the Limerick jersey that day for the first time.
This Saturday, seven (Colin Ryan, Barry Nash, Eoghan McNamara, Ronan Lynch, Thomas Grimes, Eoin Ryan, Dan Joy) of that 11 return to Semple Stadium in search of All Ireland U-21 hurling medals. For the most part they have journeyed together for the last seven years – from Primary Game, through Tony Forristal, and the minor grade to now U-21 and even senior for some.
“There’s a huge satisfaction to see them progress from playing with their school to playing with Limerick,” said Limerick Cumann na mBunscol official Br James Dormer.
”Sometimes it’s a trophy with their club and sometimes it’s with Limerick but when they bring a cup back into their school after a win it can help inspire the next generation,” he said.
“The Primary Game was set up by Clare’s Noel Walsh and over the 20 years since it continues to bring young hurlers through from Cumann na mBunscol to inter-county teams. Munster led the way and now the other provinces are following,” said the former Doon CBS Primary School principal.
The Leader Cup, Mackey Cup, Feile na nGael and the Limerick U-14 hurling championships all help rising stars move into the Limerick Underage Hurling Academy.
For those born in 1996, Joe Quaid, Don Flynn and Ray Ryan guided their fortunes with Limerick at U-14, U-15 and U-16 level.
“Of course you could see talent in them but they were evolving every year - I think we played Tom Morrissey in goals and Barry Nash in goals and then at U-16 Colin Ryan in goals. Guys were tried out in every position but you could see the talent in them,” recalled Joe Quaid.
Limerick lost both games at U-14 level in the Tony Forristal but Quaid is still adamant that a decision to stay in Waterford the night before was the correct decision.
“A lot would have been against it but I still think it helped to bond the group. That night I always remember... we said to players in a meeting that if they had any trouble sleeping that they were to say it to us. I remember it was 1am in the morning and a group rang us from their room so we took them out for a walk in the fresh air. We were just back with them and another group from another room were also awake!”
He added: "All that formed a close bond. They also had the respect for us and the confidence to come to us and say they couldn't sleep”.
The current Kildare hurling manager also recalled the work of Ger Sheehy and Declan Murphy with the ‘B squad’.
”There were probably guys that were good enough to play ‘A’ but we left them down to the ‘B’ to get them more game time - guys like Daragh Fanning and Sean Finn. We were all the time looking at the development side of things.”
One year later in the U-15 Carrigdhoun, Limerick’s results were on an upward spiral.
”That first round game against Waterford was huge for us. Robbie Hanley was on fire in that game. We were happy enough to win that Shield - I remember the final against Tipperary and at 15 years of age guys were putting their bodies on the line,” outlined Quaid, referencing that only scoring difference sent undefeated Limerick to the Shield rather than Cup.
That upward spiral continued and one year later Limerick were All Ireland U-16 championship.
”The strength of the panel really come through. We were like the walking wounded,” recalled Quaid.
”To hold out Cork (semi final) was something else. Probably against the advice of the guys I moved Ronan Lynch to centre back and he had a stormer. We had a pool session that night and brought in extra physios the next day for the final. Andrew La Touche Cosgrave was centre back and the physio said he was able to start but wouldn’t finish - well he finished and he gave an exhibition,” said a proud manager.
”It was easy to identify at 14 or 15 that they were an exceptional bunch but a lot of work has been done with them since they left us. There was no doubting their talent but what I can say is that everything we asked of them, they did it. There were no prima donnas. There is great credit due also to parents, who carried them all over the country,” he stressed.
However, Quaid didn’t get to continue with the players into the minor grade, with Brian Ryan getting the role.
”It’s well documented that we wanted to continue onto minor with them,” he said.
”To see them go onto success, I’m delighted. I still refer to them as my boys or our boys. To see them run out onto Croke Park for a minor final or now with the U-21s there is a great sense of pride but when you see them playing senior hurling, you start to feel very old,” laughed the Murroe-Boher clubman.
In September 2012, Limerick appointed former Cork All Ireland SHC winning coach Jerry Wallace as the Director of Limerick’s Underage Hurling Academy. For three years he oversaw the development of Limerick teams from U-14 to minor.
He was coach to the Brian Ryan managed Limerick side that lost to Kilkenny 2-17 to 0-19 in the 2014 All Ireland MHC final in Croke Park.
”We went oh so close,” he remembers.
”On the day of the final we just didn’t get to the pitch of it,” said Wallace.
”As Kilkenny do, they are just so hard to beat in a final – it’s a traditional thing,” said the Midleton man.
”This is a very composed bunch of Limerick players. A group that were always diligent and wanted to succeed.”
Limerick needed a replay to get over Waterford in the Munster final.
”We had Waterford beaten the first day down in Cork but took our eye off the ball. The next day out we were different and ready for them.”
Next up were Galway in an All Ireland semi final.
”There was a bit of a follow-on there because of the Hawk-Eye thing the year before.”
All Ireland minor glory evaded them, but Wallace is very about their future.
"There is a great core to this group of players. The focus now is the U-21 final but in the next year or two I want to see these develop as senior players and go on and win that All Ireland,” said Wallace.