Hungry Limerick have something in reserve to take next step
The Munster final win was fantastic for hurling, for the team, for manager John Allen, and especially for Limerick’s loyal supporters
Limerick players celebrate in the dressing room after their victory over Cork. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
We’re starting to expect the unexpected these days, certainly when it comes to the hurling championship which is the best in years. It brings me back to the mid-’90s when there were a host of real contenders. Now we’re in a situation where any one of the six teams left in the championship can entertain hopes of winning the All-Ireland.
Yesterday’s Munster final win by Limerick was fantastic for hurling, for the team, for manager John Allen, and especially for their loyal supporters. The emotional scenes that greeted the final whistle showed just what it meant to every man, woman and child in Limerick.
Much will be made of the sending-off before half-time of Cork’s Pat Horgan and how it influenced the result. I felt his sending-off was harsh and incorrect. There was no intent. He was trying to control the ball and his hurley struck his head. In my book, it was not a sending-off offence. But I also don’t think it was the key factor in the result. Sure it was an uphill struggle for Cork after that but I felt Limerick were already shaping-up as likely winners.
In that first half, Cork – with the wind – had too many aimless wides. They were never really flowing. Apart from Seámus Harnedy, the rest of the forwards found it hard to get into the game. That Luke O’Farrell and Conor Lehane were both replaced showed just how off they were on the day and, really, Cork needed to take the goal chances that came their way.
The one that fell to Horgan was probably the best goal-scoring opportunity and Cork needed that if they were to kick on and to silence the Limerick crowd. It didn’t happen. They might say if they’d 15 men for the full match they might have done this or that but I clearly think they were second best.
Cork tried hard, even with 14 men, but the missed free from James Coughlan in the second-half was the clearest example of not taking their chances.
No, it wasn’t to be for Cork. This was a fantastic day for Limerick and ultimately they ran out comfortable winners. The impact of the bench in the modern game was duly emphasised by how well Shane Dowling, Kevin Downes and Niall Moran performed when brought on. All contributed handsomely.
I believe Limerick are serious contenders for the All-Ireland and, having bridged one provincial gap of 17 years, can now bridge the 40 years gap since their last All-Ireland championship success.
You have to give Limerick huge credit for this win, and particularly their second-half performance. Virtually everything they attempted came off. Declan Hannon’s sideline cut was an example of that. Wayne McNamara caught some wonderful high balls. Donal O’Grady took over around the midfield.
And an example of Limerick’s hunger was shown by one incident where Paul Browne gave chase to Cathal Naughton, who had been brought on to run at the defence, and got back to get in a hook. It showed just how tirelessly each man worked on the day. It typified Limerick’s work ethic.
In all areas of the field, there was some powerful hurling from Limerick. Richie McCarthy was again outstanding. They’re physically strong and physically fit and they’ve learned a lot from last year. We must remember they went as far as anyone did last year with Kilkenny in that All-Ireland quarter-final and they’ve improved a lot since then. They’re serious contenders.
This has been the best hurling championship for many years. It reminds me of ’95 and the emergence of Clare. That was a year that any one of a number of counties could have won. This year is the same. We know the draw and it is still hard to call the winner of the All-Ireland. There is a lot of hurling to be played between now and September.
Lurking in long grass
If Limerick’s win was emotional for their unbelievable supporters, there was evidence on Saturday night that Kilkenny still lurk in the long grass. It was fantastic entertainment in Thurles, with both matches only decided in extra-time.
I thought Kilkenny looked vulnerable all through the game. Until extra-time. Waterford actually had a chance to hammer the nail into Kilkenny’s coffin with about 30 seconds to go before that epic piece of play that came to Matt Ruth but they weren’t able to do it. The amazing thing about Kilkenny was the hunger and desire they showed when the match went into extra-time. When it came to mind over body, their desire was fantastic and that extra-time period was by far the best hurling Kilkenny have produced this year. Tommy Walsh and Jackie Tyrell were superb in defence when it mattered most.
It might be a cliché but they haven’t gone away. Their Saturday nights may be over but they have battle-hardened Kilkenny – if they needed it – for the Sundays ahead. Waterford could have done with John Mullane or Stephen Molomphy.
Clare should have won their game in ordinary time. Wexford fought hard, as you’d expect. But the standard was poor. Still, Clare are there and will be dangerous opponents for Galway in the quarter-final. They will come in a little under the radar and are still capable of beating Galway.