John Kiely not for the first time this season had reason to be grateful for the impact of his replacements on this close-run All-Ireland semi-final against Galway.
For a start there was the tangible benefit of the scores and added bounce but there was also the fact that two All Stars, Peter Casey and twice Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch, were marking a return from long-term injuries.
“All the bench — [David Reidy] got three points, I know — but there was an assist there from Cian. Peter came on, got some vital possessions. Conor Boylan came on, broke a tackle, got a vital possession. Not necessarily scores but making an impact — winning possession, winning a free, giving an assist.
“Whoever finishes it doesn’t matter; it’s who does the work before that, but they gave us the energy. I think we were the team with the energy in the last eight to 10 minutes.”
After a start that suggested the match might be over almost as quickly as Saturday night’s semi-final between Kilkenny and Clare, the champions were slowed down and fully engaged by a Galway side, considerably outperforming its Leinster credentials.
The pressure came piling on after Brian Concannon’s 44th minute goal but Limerick held firm. Asked had the day underlined his team’s appetite, as they pursue a fourth All-Ireland in five years, Kiely was circumspect.
“To be honest, I don’t think we worked quite hard enough today. When we look back on it during the week our work rate will be just down a notch or two, and it’s something we’ll be disappointed with.
“We turned over too many balls in the tackle, and that’s our fault. The tackle is the opposition’s responsibility, but holding on to the ball is ours when we have it, and we coughed up too many balls in the tackle in that middle third.”
Was he worried that the team’s form dipped a bit after the Munster campaign? Would he hope that they could improve?
“I’m going to be brutally honest with you. Every day we go out the kitchen sink is fired at us and whatever is left over is fired at us as well, and we have had to stand up and take whatever has been fired at us all season long and that’s just the way it is and I don’t see it going to change.
“But I know that every day our boys have stood up and withstood everything that was fired at them. They showed great resilience, determination, composure, calmness and an ability to see out the game so I’m worried about nothing.”
His Galway counterpart Henry Shefflin had regrets that such a challenge had ended up empty-handed.
“Especially coming up against such hot favourites, you speak a lot about getting a performance and I would have spoken about that myself — that’s what we needed. And then you get the performance and you don’t get the result and, you know, sport is cruel, so yeah, it’s just very disappointing.
“You give it absolutely everything, and then it’s all over and you just come up a little bit short and there’s a lot of ifs and buts. But, I suppose, from a management point of view and from a group point of view, we said we wanted to do ourselves proud on the field today and I think we achieved that.”
The Galway manager had been greatly exercised by some of the decisions of referee Thomas Walsh but he wasn’t going to rake the embers.
“Look, I’m not going to come out — to be fair, Limerick won the match and they were the better team. I did feel there was a 10-minute, 12-minute spell in the second half there, after we got the goal, that there were a few marginal calls that didn’t go our way, yes.
“But look, I don’t think they all went over the bar either and I think in the overall context of the game, you know, it comes and goes a little bit, to be fair.”
He was further asked did he feel that maybe the better team lost.
“I don’t know the answer to that question. I’d have to watch the match to tell you because I think you get so emotionally enthralled in the game, you don’t really know. I do know we had a very good opportunity to beat the double All-Ireland champions, and we just came up short.”