Eamonn Cregan in dreamland as Limerick revel in golden era

Former player, coach and manager says county’s academy was key to the startling transformation

Ten years ago it started, says Eamonn Cregan.

“It was Shane Fitzgibbon’s idea. ‘Lifting the Treaty’ was intended to improve young players in an academy, preparing them to be able to compete at the highest levels.”

Fitzgibbon immediately recruited Cregan and other interested Limerick hurling people to take teams. He said at the time that Cregan had so much to offer the county still, as the only man from the county to have won an All-Ireland both on the field and as a manager.

The groundbreaking work was so successful that another major name, Joe McKenna, was approached to see if he would become involved with an expanded operation and, having interested his friends JP McManus and brother Gerry, the great Limerick production line was up and running with McKenna in charge.


Cregan's intercounty involvement spanned over 50 years as an under-age player, senior hurler (and at one stage, footballer) as well as coach and manager until he signed off in 2016 having taken Mary Immaculate College in Limerick to a first Fitzgibbon Cup nearly a quarter of a century after being persuaded to get involved with the college's camogie team.

“What the academy did was pick up players who would never have been picked up before,” he says.

"Cathal O'Neill is now on the senior panel. He's a young fella from Crecora and they were a junior club but at under-age he began to shine in the academy. That's what we wanted to do, pick up everyone."

He stresses the importance of late developers in the process.

"In 2007 Shane Dowling and Dan Morrissey were on the Forristal team (under-14 intercounty). We called up 100 players and I'd say three of them came through but we knew that. Everyone wanted to be involved with the county panel. I spent three years with them and we would have had the Darragh O'Donovans and the Richie Englishs but they were only on the B team.

“I think about eight of the panel that won the first All-Ireland in 2018 had been on B teams at the Forristal stage (under-14).”

As a constant presence in Limerick and key influence on the county’s 1973 win – by stark irony, he managed Offaly to beat his county in the 1994 All-Ireland final – he was used to lamenting the failure to step up: the ‘one All-Ireland since 1940’ narrative continued all the way to 78 years before John Kiely’s team bridged the gap in 2018.

In dreamland

He is in dreamland at this stage after the county completed a third MacCarthy Cup in four years at the weekend with a team featuring many of those he had seen grow and develop over the years.

"They came up through primary schools and secondary like Ardscoil, Castletroy, Doon CBS – Séamus Flanagan played Harty Cup with West Limerick colleges.

"That's how they all got to know each other and began to play the same type of game. To watch yesterday and see how they played was unbelievable. The arrival of Paul Kinnerk, John Kiely and their backroom team was really significant. I don't have enough praise for them."

He marvels at the multi-faceted modern management teams.

“I would never be able to do that because I wouldn’t have the tools and the amount of analysis that’s needed would drive me nuts. I wouldn’t be able for it as I’m not tech-friendly the way everyone is these days.”

He is particularly proud of the input of his former Mary I charges. Limerick captain Declan Hannon and player of the year-elect Cian Lynch are two.

“Cian Lynch is so far ahead of everyone and when he gives you a hand pass, there’s often something on, like the two goals yesterday. That’s how he played even as a young fella. Hand passing can be overdone but it has its uses.

"When we won in 2016, we went to extra time and extra-extra time. He scored the two points that won it for us – off his left side. You can pick out the leaders. David Reidy was another and Darragh O'Donovan, Richie English (all in Sunday's match panel). They were Mary I."

Immense final

He's particularly happy for Hannon, who had an immense final at centre back and entered the history books as the first man to captain three All-Ireland-winning teams since Christy Ring. Eight years previously he had endured a difficult semi-final when Limerick lost to eventual champions Clare.

“We had him full forward on the Mary I team and switched him to right corner forward. We were hand-passing too much, the sort I don’t like: five hand passes to get the ball out of defence and then a long ball into the forwards. Declan was waiting and waiting and the full back is fouling the hell out of him.

“We shifted him out so that we could then hit in the high ball and he could come in at speed. We said to the backs, one hand pass and then drive the ball. Corner backs hate a moving corner forward. In 55 minutes of the final he hit 1-12. Five were frees but 1-7 from play. He’s comfortable anywhere because he has that ability, good first touch and strikes well off the left and the right. You saw that on Sunday.

“I’m delighted for him because things weren’t always easy for him.”

Did he think he’d ever see the day when Limerick were so dominant?

“Did I? No, I didn’t! It’s great though”.