As Limerick attempt to make history, the 2010 championship team is a footnote
After winter’s discord tore the county apart, they still had to cobble together a panel for the summer
They are the team of asterisks, the exceptions to the rule. The panel that lined out for Limerick in the 2010 championship were hurlers but they weren’t all intercounty hurlers. They were what was left after the sticks of dynamite exploded over the previous winter and blew the relationship between huge chunks of the 2009 panel and the manager Justin McCarthy apart. They were there and then they were gone, rarely to be spoken of again. Atlantis in green shirts.
They didn’t all disappear. Four of them will line out for Limerick tomorrow, each of them having hammered out tidy intercounty careers for themselves in the years since. Nicky Quaid, Paul Browne, David Breen and Graeme Mulcahy have all thrown into the pot at different stages this summer, Quaid with a couple of smart saves against Tipperary in particular, Breen and Browne indefatigable around the centre of the field and Mulcahy always sniping at corner-forward. A fifth, corner-back Shane O’Neill, has been in and around the panel without managing to quite break the starting line-up.
But for the remaining 19 players who appeared in that summer’s championship, 2010 was more or less the beginning and the end all wrapped up in one. There were a few exceptions – Thomas O’Brien from Patrickswell hung in and saw game-time under both Donal O’Grady and John Allen before failing to make the panel this year and Bruree’s James O’Brien had been in and out of the team for seven seasons before finishing up that summer. But for the broad brush of that squad 2010 was their one taste of the big show.
Liam Garvey was a selector on that team, alongside Brian Ryan whose county minors will ensure a hefty portion of the Limerick crowd are in their seats from early on tomorrow. Garvey himself is over the UL Fitzgibbon Cup team these days but back then the pair of them were elbow-deep in the make-do-and-mend operation that came with the fallout from the winter’s discontent.
While the pot of rancour bubbled away outside, they had to get on with the business of putting a team together. At a certain point, it ceased to matter what the rights and wrongs had been – a Limerick team had to be readied for the championship. Their biggest problem starting off wasn’t necessarily a lack of skills, more that these were young bodies that hadn’t been through sustained seasons of intercounty conditioning. You can coach and scheme your way around the first problem but the second takes time. Fitness isn’t an exam subject you can cram for.
“It was difficult,” says Garvey. “Every team needs to be able to call upon the players that are available. Counties don’t have huge amounts of players at the top level so what we were trying to do was quite difficult.
“It was a matter of trying to develop players and get them used to playing 70-minute matches. The bulk of these players were normally used to playing 60-minute matches. So in fairness to them, it would always take a year or two to build guys up to the point where they could play matches of that intensity for that long.”
They cobbled together a squad made up of some good club hurlers, some promising under-21s and a few outsiders. Tadhg Flynn was a Kerryman teaching in Limerick and playing his club hurling as a goalkeeper with Ahane. He had played in the Munster Championship for Kerry back in 2004.
“I was a long time in Limerick,” he says. “I was doing a masters in Limerick at the time and I was good friends with Niall Moran. So instead of going home for training I would train up in Limerick with them. So then eventually, I said I’d fall in with them for a year or two. I got a phonecall to go in for a trial and that was it really.”
Full-forward Anthony Owens was a Garda from Kilkenny who’d been playing with South Liberties. Shaun O’Riordan was a Corkman by birth and a Newtownshandrum player at the time but his family were all Limerick people and he has since transferred to Bruree. Still, it lent the day a pretty bleak irony when he had the Newtownshandrum trio of Cathal Naughton and the O’Connor twins zipping past him against Cork that summer.
They fielded nine debutants that day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and added four more off the bench as the game progressed.
As it happened, they hung in there reasonably well in the first half until two gut punches in the run-up to the break left them winded and spent. First wing-forward Paudie McNamara had a penalty saved by Donal Óg Cusack and soon after the other wing-forward Seán Herlihy was given the line for a swipe at Shane Murphy.
Instead of inching to within a puck of a ball of Cork, they went in at half-time seven points down and playing with 14 men. In the end Cork ran out winners by 2-19 to 0-12, a result and a game that suited nobody but had to be got out of the way all the same. Three weeks later, they played Offaly in Tullamore and ran them much closer, only going down 1-18 to 1-13 in the end. But come the second Sunday in July they were done. And for 18 of the 24, it was the end of the Limerick career.
“Anybody who was involved with a county team would like to think that they made a contribution and that they’ve helped the development of some of the players,” says Garvey. “And I’d like to think we did that in certain cases with some of the Limerick players. Some players got a chance that they maybe mightn’t otherwise have got. Some have taken that chance and some players haven’t.”
When O’Grady arrived with a clean slate that winter, it was predictable that the men who populated the shadow squad would be the first overboard. And even now, with war wounds patched up and the whole of the county en fete, it’s close to impossible to get any of them to talk about it. Even the ones who returned calls for this article were uniformly reluctant to go into any detail about that summer. Bygones are strictly bygones.
Yet the fact remains, for a single summer they were the Limerick team. Nobody can take that from them.