Players in no need of motivation for unique occasion that is the Munster final
Cork have an edge in three championship games played but Limerick have a winning momentum
Limerick players celebrate in the dressing room with manager John Allen after their championship success at Gaelic Grounds in Limerick last year where Cork were beaten. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Sunday, June 25th 2006: There’s no doubt but that, for any hurler, playing in a Munster senior hurling final is only eclipsed by playing in an All-Ireland decider.
Such is the tradition and history of the many, many, great finals that any player worth his salt would like his playing CV to include having played in a Munster final, better again if he was on the winning team.
The last time Cork were Munster champions in 2006 is very fresh in my memory. The journey began from the Silversprings hotel with a Garda escort to the first stop in Dundrum House Hotel to arrive three hours before throw-in (as is present day best practice ) for the pre-match meal. There’s always great sense of power and importance sitting in a bus with sirens blazing ahead and which is gliding past the then (pre-motorway ) slow-moving carnival of cars. Jealous drivers and excited flag wavers usually acknowledged the passing heroes.
There was always a sense of the quiet before the storm in Dundrum. We had been there several times since the beginning of the 2000s and always stuck fairly rigidly to the same routine. Players took the carbs on board before beginning part one of the day’s ritual. The team talk was the time to start the zoning-in process. It was now time to start applying the “game face”. The masseurs, physio and doctor did their business. Players usually togged and many listened to their music as they prepared.
Then it was time to leave the sanctuary of Dundrum to head to the battlefield in Tom Semple’s stadium in Thurles. With the garda outriders leading the way the town soon came into view as did the colours and the crowds. Soon the back of the old stand was reached. The tension was palpable. The mantra now was no eye contact with the usually surprised match goers who found themselves face to face with their heroes (or opponents ) as they made their way from the bus, through the milling crowds, in the stadium gate and into the relative sanctuary of the dressingroom.
This was our fourth Munster final in a row and, even though we didn’t play particularly well, we pulled through against the home team. After the game all the players made their way back on foot to the Anner Hotel on the other side of town for the post-match meal. The cup made the journey on the team bus with only Shane Allen and Páirc Uí Chaoimh groundsman Tommy Lynch for company. I don’t think I saw it again up close and personal until last summer. There was only one trophy we really wanted and that wasn’t played for until September .
Marching ordersSunday, July 14th 2013: The balmy summer continued and the Gaelic Grounds Limerick was a sea of green and red on final day.
In the game the sending off of Patrick Horgan just before half-time was a fairly bad blow to Cork. During the break we decided to use full-back Richie McCarthy as our free man. He played this role very well.
Our backs played excellently all through the second half and we brought on the same fresh legs as in the semi-final and again to great effect. It was, especially pleasing to see the warriors Niall Moran and Dónal O Grady, the longest serving players, winning their first Munster medals on the field of play. The scenes at the end with the crowd invasion showed what this important victory meant to the faithful supporters.
The high jinks in the dressingroom an hour later and recorded by RTÉ was not staged. This was real-life happiness. I had come up from a Cork dressingroom which was eerily quiet. It emphasises the massive gulf between winning and losing when the stakes are so high. As a Cork man I felt sorry for the players, especially those I had worked with in my time with my home county. I remember saying to them that the only real difference between them and us that evening was that we were a step further along the championship path.
But Seán South rang out in the home dressingroom and Limerick You’re a Lady got a few airings as well. Niall Moran was the choir leader. He’s a much better hurler than singer though.
About two hours later the team headed back to the nearby Greenhills Hotel which was en fête. This was fiesta time. The sun shone, drink flowed, cameras flashed, the cup was in every shot. The heroes were lapping it up and deservedly so. They had walked the walk and now it was reward time.
The much sought-after trophy did the round of the county the following week and was a desirable addition to many photographs and functions for a long while.
Tough to callFriday, July 11th 2014 : On Sunday the trophy without a name will occupy a space at the front of the covered stand in Páirc Uí Chaoimh until Munster council chairman Robert Frost presents it to the winning captain.
Cork have the advantage of three championship games while Limerick have the momentum gathered from their hard-fought victory over Tipperary.
There’s no doubt but that the time between some championship games is too long. The form of the last game might not necessarily be carried forward. Limerick have not played since June 1st. Cork have had the three occasions to provide evidence of improving form but Limerick won’t relinquish their title too easily.
It’s a Munster final. No further motivation needed; the better team will win.