After the madness Limerick hurlers realise their crazy dream
‘I’d be lying if we weren’t scarred,’ says Limerick’s Tom Morrissey of madcap finish
Limerick’s Cian Lynch celebrates with fans. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Sure what’s another eight minutes? Another 480 seconds? After 4½ decades and the flight and the madness of near plunder, only the small matter of hanging on and becoming the stuff of legend.
If only it could be distilled as easily. All-Ireland finals don’t come with any insurance plan, and this was no exception: so when Limerick manager John Kiely saw their eight-point lead shot down to a single point in those eight minutes of added time, he didn’t know what to think.
Kiely only knew what not to think.
He’d been here twice before – part of the Limerick teams that lost All-Ireland hurling finals in 1994 and again in 1996 to a similarly mad onslaught, against Offaly and Wexford. Those extra eight minutes were all about ensuring Limerick didn’t wait another minute past 45 years, their last All-Ireland success.
So Joe Canning standing over the late, late long-range free that threatened to square it all up again, possibly even plunder it for Galway, was “horrendous, absolutely horrendous”, said Kiely, and the word was justified.
“It really was difficult, those last eight minutes, but they still found a way to do it,” he said. “And if that’s what you have to do to get what we have now, we’ll take it. I’m not going to lie, I was here in 1996 as a Limerick sub, was on the panel in 1994, and I’ve seen it happen.
“So you can’t block it out. You just acknowledge it, try to keep distracted from your own thoughts. That might sound mad, but you just think as little as possible, deal with what’s in front of you.
“The heart is jumping out of the chest. You’re trying to lock out the noise, try to see what is actually happening. It’s not the easiest place to be, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s an incredible thing, the lead going away, momentum back with the opposition. And it’s so difficult to stunt that, to respond. But we ... just about squeezed enough out of us.
“And it’s an honour for me to be involved with this group. I never expected we’d end up here, but that was somebody else’s plan. We worked hard for it though, extremely hard, made massive sacrifices,
“It’s just awful pity that it took so long, because there were some fantastic teams there, 1980, ’81, 1994, ’97, 2007, and other years too. They were great teams, great players, and various bits and pieces didn’t go for them. So it’s surreal too. I have a real feeling someone is going to shake me and wake me, that it hasn’t all been a crazy dream.
Galway will long haunted by the what-ifs; Limerick did all they wanted to do, possibly even more.
“We started really well, had a really good run-in over these last few weeks and I knew coming into the stadium that everything had gone well,” said Kiely. “The lads knew that as well, they were very relaxed. We had some craic coming up on the train, and in the hotel before we came in.
“We knew what we needed to do. There was no mystery about it. There was no tactical conundrum that we had to solve. It was just wanting it badly enough and waiting until the time came to engage with the battle.”
Before those extra eight minutes, midfielder Darragh O’Donovan had just been replaced, and was hiding his face in a towel for Canning’s last free: by the time he looked out, Tom Condon had caught cleanly and cleared the last ball. Not that he once doubted the spirit of his team.
“Ah sure, it’s a long time waiting,” said O’Donovan. “I remember going into the boxing ring with this man in St Francis’ last October, the end of October, and we were going in, literally beating the heads off each other.
“John has been saying it all year, we have to fight with ourselves before we fight with anyone else. We have to respect ourselves. John is always saying that about training ... if you were to come up to some of our training sessions you would think lads wouldn’t be talking to each other.”
A bit lost
Tom Morrissey also found himself a little lost in the madness of the end game: “Well I’d be lying if we weren’t scarred, but definitely worth it in the end. We were expecting Galway to come strong in the second half. I wouldn’t say it’s unbelievable, because I fully believed we would win, but fairly exhausted, that’s for sure.”
And for Kyle Hayes, just turned 20, it all sounded a little mad to be talking about ending the long wait. “Going back to beating Galway in Salthill, getting promotion, seven or eight points down at half time, you knew there’s something special in the group.
“When Joe got their second goal, in added time, it was ‘just win the next puck out ... That’s been drilled into us all year. As soon we we’re dealt a blow, just react with something positive.”