Limerick finally pull clear of Galway’s clawing grip in thrilling semi-final encounter

Henry Shefflin’s side showed just why they will mean business in summers to come

Limerick 0-27 Galway 1-21

What a game. Limerick, the nouveau riche of 21st century hurling, got the shock of their lives here against Galway, who once again reminded the country that they are the most unpredictable and electrifying force in summer hurling.

If there was no burning rivalry between these two counties, then have a look on the horizon. John Kiely’s team earned their stripes against Galway in a vital league game back in 2018 and then narrowly edged them out to win the All-Ireland title that has opened a run of remarkable opulence. Here, they were the heaviest of favourites to swat away the Galway men and absorbed a sensational show of defiance and will and answer-for-answer hurling before pulling clear in a gripping period of injury-time.

It was the old story: strength in reserve. Kiely was able to introduce the talismanic Cian Lynch, the returning Peter Casey and the attacking finesse of Cathal O’Neill when the atmosphere was fever pitch. But it was David Reidy who had the freshness of body and mind to land three gargantuan points when the sharp shooters on both sides, exhausted after a fast and attritional game, started to misfire.

Galway manager Henry Shefflin and Limerick coach Paul Kinnerk were both yellow carded midway through the second half after a vivid difference of opinion on the sideline. It was a mark of the wild, brilliant turn the game had taken.

Kinnerk is usually a study in still life on the sideline. Here, he paced and consulted with Kiely as Limerick watched a four-point half-time lead disappear after the break. Galway’s hopes flipped with Brian Concannon’s 37th-minute goal. The Kilimordaly man ghosted behind Mike Casey to read the trajectory of David Burke’s visionary dropping ball and the finish was brilliant. Then, a Joseph Cooney point pushed Galway into the lead for the first time all afternoon. The new order looked as though it might fragment.

And Galway might have wavered here early. There were echoes of Saturday’s lopsided semi-final, with Limerick racing into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead by the eighth minute, while Galway notched up a variety of dispiriting wides. They continued to shoot with sporadic results, firing 11 by half-time (two of those called by Hawk-Eye) but crucially, their shooters in maroon weren’t discouraged.

Through a combination of moral courage and hurling poise, they slowly played their way into contention. They looked to score from deep and the licence to shoot was general. Tom Monaghan underlined a fine summer with three excellent points from play and Cathal Mannion sent a warning note to the Limerick men with a fabulous point to leave Galway trailing by 0-13 to 0-12 at the half-hour mark.

Shefflin stood impassively on the sideline but privately he must have been delighted. There was an unmistakable sense of stung pride about Galway’s response to that early setback and there were small signs – Joseph Cooney skipping in front of full back Casey to concoct a fine point; Joseph Cooney, dropping into wing back to cover for the immense loss of Gearoid McInerney, thundering on to an aerial ball and surging through the emerald green rearguard – that Galway would compete with a sense of healthy insolence.

At the other end, the Galway corner backs both had jittery moments when called into play with Galway’s short restarts. And they found Aaron Gillane in a mood of unreasonable brilliance early on. His five points from play were of the quality that no defender could live with: All Star full back Daithí Burke was breathing down his neck; Gillane was running from the posts and striking over his shoulder: no matter. Elsewhere, Limerick’s powerful weapons popped up to keep them at arm’s length, with corner back Barry Nash garlanding his fabulous season with a wonderful point from deep.

But Galway were not content to simply keep company with the champions. They turned anarchic after half-time, with Pádraic Mannion’s giving an uncontainable, brilliant display of undiluted will. The full-back line got on top. And if this proves to be Davy Burke’s last day out for Galway, then what a goodbye.

Overall, it was a performance that reflected everything we knew of Shefflin as a player. It bodes well for future seasons. The fears that Galway would have to hang their hat on Conor Whelan didn’t materialise. Galway’s danger-in-chief was well marshalled. As it turned out, Whelan’s second point, in the 65th minute, was Galway’s last. They had chances during the unbearably tense sprint for home but it was Limerick who once again found a way.

It has become the story of their summer. In the face of furious Galway defensive covering and harassment, they worked the ball to an open man. Kyle Hayes had a monstrous second half, bowling through the Galway defence. Seán Finn made an outrageous catch late on when the maroon team came searching for a goal. The buoyed-up support from the west were increasingly aggrieved at a series of calls made by referee Thomas Walsh and the frees did go Limerick’s way during the 17 minutes after half-time when they did not score from play.

They looked human here and the wides began to stack up – 11 in the second half. The regal scoring machine that cruised to the last two All-Irelands was not permitted to smoothly function here. None of what was observed will dampen plans around Nowlan Park for the next fortnight. If Limerick are to prolong this era of brilliance, then this will be the All-Ireland season they will remember because they’ve been scrapping like demons. And responding like champions.

LIMERICK: 1 N Quaid; 2 S Finn, 3 M Casey, 4 B Nash (0-1); 5 D Byrnes (0-7, six frees), 6 D Hannon (0-1), 7 D Morrissey; 8 W O’Donoghue (0-1), 9 D O’Donovan; 10 G Hegarty (0-1), 11 K Hayes (0-3), 12 T Morrissey (0-1); 13 A Gillane (0-7, one free), 14 S Flanagan (0-2), 15 G Mulcahy.

Subs: 18 P Casey for 15 G Mulcahy (55 mins), 23 C Lynch for 12 T Morrissey (57), 26 D Reidy (0-3) for 9 D O’Donovan (61), 24 C O’Neill for 10 G Hegarty (63), 17 C Boylan for 14 S Flanagan (67).

GALWAY: 1 E Murphy; 3 D Burke, 2 J Grealish, 4 D Morrissey; 7 F Burke (0-1) 5 P Mannion (0-2, one free), 12 J Cooney (0-1); 8 R Glennon (0-2), 9 D Burke; 10 T Monaghan (0-4), 15, C Mannion (0-3), 20 J Flynn; 13 C Whelan (0-3), 11 C Cooney (0-5, four frees), 14 B Concannon (1-0).

Subs: 22 C Fahy for 20 J Flynn (52 mins), 19 J Coen for 8 R Glennon (67) 21 E Niland for 9 B Burke (67), 23 K Cooney for 11 C Cooney (73).

Referee: W Walsh (Waterford).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a sports writer with The Irish Times