Cregan says it’s Limerick’s ‘time to stand up’ and fight
Says it’s important that Limerick don’t allow Kilkenny dictate to them early on
Limerick’s Niall Moran beats Andrew Shore of Wexford to the ball during the sides’ All-Ireland SHC quarter-final. Photograph: Inpho
Not many hurling people are expecting Limerick to beat Kilkenny in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final, except maybe those who recall the last height of their rivalry four decades ago, and especially Eamonn Cregan.
For Cregan, Sunday’s showdown has echoes of his own era, when Limerick met Kilkenny in back-to-back All-Ireland finals, in 1973 and 1974 – although with subtle differences: Limerick beat them unexpectedly, in 1973, then let the celebrations spill over into the following year, when Kilkenny gained swift revenge.
Now, Cregan feels Limerick’s celebrations at winning last year’s Munster title – their first since 1996 – are well and truly over, and this time the team are playing to their own expectations.
“With Limerick and Kilkenny it really goes back to the 1930s, when Limerick came first, under Mick Mackey,” says Cregan, referring to Limerick’s All-Ireland wins over Kilkenny in 1936, and again in 1940. “Limerick dropped off again after that, and Kilkenny really started dominating, along with Cork and Tipp, while Limerick disappeared really, in the ’40s and ’50s.
‘Well fancied’“When we came again in 1973, we’d already beaten Kilkenny once or twice in league matches. But still, Kilkenny were well fancied, and even though they were short a number of players, everyone in the papers were saying Kilkenny were going to win. No question or doubt about that.
“We had come through a very tough Munster championship, had contested four or five national league finals in succession, and had been gaining good experience. We came into the final, no one gave us a chance, but we were really up for the day, and won well, actually, by seven points.”
But it all went wrong in 1974, and Cregan still has regrets about that: “It was a bit of a disaster for us, because after winning in 1973, the celebrations kept going for months and months, really. Our attention to training just wasn’t the same, and I remember about six weeks before the championship, we realised we just weren’t going to be at the races. We tried to rectify it, got so far, but it just didn’t happen.
“That second year after an All-Ireland is always very difficult to replicate. We just came a cropper, really, and Kilkenny won well. But no team likes to lose an All-Ireland. And I certainly didn’t like that one, in 1974, losing the way we should. And we’re still waiting for our first win over them since then. So that says how much Kilkenny have dominated, really.”
Different prospectThe counties met again in the 2007 All-Ireland final, Kilkenny winning convincingly, although Cregan believes Sunday’s showdown is a completely different prospect: “This particular Limerick team has been coming the last six or seven years now. Kilkenny, we know, as just superb. They’ve all the skills, they’re aggressive, and well able to score. When Limerick played them in the 2007 final Limerick were still a bit green, very inexperienced.
“Losing to Clare last year was a big lesson as well. There was just too much hype after the Munster final. It went way overboard and just wasn’t controlled. They went up thinking they could beat Clare and instead they fell completely flat. In that regard it was like us in 1974.
“And thinking back to 2007, Kilkenny won that game in the first 20 minutes, and that’s something they’ll try to do again on Sunday. So it’s very important that Limerick stand up to that, don’t allow Kilkenny to dictate the game.
“They’ve also had that setback this year, when Donal O’Grady resigned as manager, and I believe the Limerick players realised then that it was up to them to prove it themselves, to make a stand, and so far they have definitely done that.
‘Soft goals’“Okay we were beaten by Cork in the Munster final, but there wasn’t much in it, only the two soft goals we gave away, and we were very loose in the half-back line. They tightened that up against Wexford, went for it the minute the ball was thrown in, and Wexford had no answer to that.
“So, this team has been through the mill. They’re going in under the radar, and I would be hopeful they’d do the business. They have to prove to themselves now, because Limerick have been bridesmaids for too long. It’s time to stand up and take whatever comes at them. There’s no point in talking about being good enough. The only way to show that now is to go out and win.”