Keith Duggan: Limerick hurlers enter the pantheon of greatness

Relentless game of a scoring blizzard in searing heat saw John Kiely’s men come out on top

The fabled day in Irish sport is producing new gods. On a day of dreamy sunshine in the city, the Limerick hurlers extended their supreme grip on the contemporary game, entering the pantheon of greatness with their third All-Ireland title win in a row. It’s a feat that has been achieved just a handful of times in the long dusty hurling scroll. That it came against Kilkenny, ever the dark prince of hurling, made the day even sweeter.

It finished 1-31 to 2-26, a relentless 74 minutes of a scoring blizzard in searing heat. The widely used cliché that Kilkenny would throw the kitchen sink at the reigning champions proved true. But they also threw totemic figures from their brightest days, Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan, who stormed into a game that was taken to the brink by the challengers. When these teams last met in an All-Ireland final, in 2007, Limerick were a flickering force, uncertain of how to unlock their tradition. From 1940 to 2018, the county experienced just one senior All-Ireland success. That is a lot of hurt and doubt.

“I don’t think of 2007 personally myself,” said a thrilled John Kiely, the school principal who has managed the team through this unprecedented spell of excellence.

“All I said to my two girls at home yesterday morning was, ‘I hope ye understand that when I was your age, I went to see Limerick play Galway in the All-Ireland final in 1980. And it was the only time I was in Croke Park in my youth. Until I was in my 20s in 1994. And that was it. They couldn’t believe it. And I said that is the way it was. So ye need to make sure that you memory-bank this because ye don’t know lucky ye are.’ And to be fair, we have a lot of very appreciative supporters out there.”

READ MORE

They do. Limerick have entered something of a hurling dream. Gearóid Hegarty, their rangy, brilliant big man struck 1-5 from play on a day when he was uncontainable. The last 10 minutes became a battle of unbearable tension, with Limerick mirroring the resilience which has been the calling card of Brian Cody’s Kilkenny and hitting five points to leave them clear during injury time. “Sheer stubbornness nearly got us over the line,” said Declan Hannon, the first hurler to lift the MacCarthy Cup on four occasions.

Little wonder that there’s a generation of Limerick children who believe these days of green glory are what hurling means, now and always. Try telling them otherwise.

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a features writer with The Irish Times