Hurling All Stars: Scale of Limerick's achievement difficult to ignore

County’s dominance invites comparisons with great Kilkenny sides of recent decades

Cian Lynch, one of the 12 selected Limerick All Stars this year, celebrates at the final whistle following the county’s comprehensive victory over Cork in the All-Ireland final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Cian Lynch, one of the 12 selected Limerick All Stars this year, celebrates at the final whistle following the county’s comprehensive victory over Cork in the All-Ireland final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Much of the fallout from the PwC hurling All Stars has focused on All-Ireland finalists Cork receiving none rather than champions Limerick taking 12, a record that extends the previous mark by a third.

The latter is the more striking statistic, all the more so for the fact that all three of the Limerick players left out had arguments in their favour. In response to the perennial complaint that All Stars selectors concentrate too much on All-Ireland semi-finals and finals, a friend quipped that were that the case, Limerick would have 15.

In a couple of years John Kiely’s team have gone from being trail-blazers, who finally brought the Liam MacCarthy home after 45 years, to being an almost frightening force in the game and inviting comparisons with Kilkenny’s great sides of recent decades.

They have a long way to go to becoming a dynasty of that type. Remember the 11 All-Irelands won by Kilkenny in the Cody years were won by different generations. Nobody on the 2000 team was still there in 2015.

Limerick’s concentration of talent is awesome. Their entire starting team from last August’s All-Ireland have now won All Stars, including two panellists. Go back to 2018 and the first All-Ireland under John Kiely and three more All Stars were involved on the bench. That’s 20 playing for the county in four years.

Whether their longevity proves to be in the Kilkenny category remains to be seen but in the here and now they have dominated the game to an unprecedented extent in the short term, handing out double-digit beatings in successive All-Ireland finals.

After this year’s demolition of Cork, Nicky English wrote in these pages.

“It was a tough finale for Cork. Whether they were the second-best team in the championship is in a way irrelevant such is the gulf that now exists between Limerick and the rest. The sense of renewal you get after an All-Ireland and the looking forward to next year isn’t as obvious this year.

“You have to congratulate an outstanding team with outstanding management, playing textbook hurling. The bar has been set very high.”

Giving the Kilkenny perspective the following week, Jackie Tyrrell had this to say of Limerick.

“Their performance last Sunday was out of this world. They blitzed Cork for 70-odd minutes and played their own style of hurling at a level that Cork could not match. That’s no slight on Cork – nobody could have matched what Limerick brought. You can only stand back and congratulate them.

“They haven’t become the best team in the country overnight. They have three All-Irelands in four years and they have extended their margins of victory every year. All the available evidence would tell you that they are putting more and more distance between themselves and the rest with each passing season. On the face of it, there’s no reason they can’t dominate the next five years of hurling if they want it enough.”

Middle eight

No team had previously secured the entire middle eight in an All Star team in either hurling or football –- Dublin came closest last year but Cavan’s Thomas Galligan interrupted at centrefield.

Limerick’s half-back line, centrefield and half forwards excited very little debate beyond whether Clare’s Tony Kelly should be included at centrefield or in the forwards where he mostly played this year.

When a team commands those three lines, domination is inevitable.

Cork drawing a blank didn’t appear to excite too much outrage or dissent among the GAA community. There appeared to be an understanding that All Stars are the icing on the cake and that Cork need to bake the cake first.

On Shane Stapleton’s and Michael Verney’s podcast OurGame.ie, former Cork All-Ireland winner John Fenton made the measured response that Limerick’s domination needed to draw a reaction from competing counties but particularly Cork.

“I think there might be one or two Cork lads that will be disappointed that they didn’t get the nod but I suppose in all fairness it just proves how good Limerick have been over the year and the last couple of years and I think it will motivate a lot of Cork fellas next year to go one step further.”

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