Cian Lynch still playing central role in rise of Limerick hurling

Patrickswell star among a number of former under-21s to have shone at senior level

Here's the scene: we're in the Glendalough Hotel and Cian Lynch is presented in the seat in front of us to help ponder the future of Limerick hurling.

He’s a suitably rake thin and slightly gangling 19-year-old, his hair closely shaven on both sides, with a thinly knotted ponytail emerging somewhere from the back. He still hasn’t played a senior championship match, yet is tipped by many to play a central role in Limerick’s potential rise, showing ample enthusiasm at least for what it means to play for his county.

"No, I have never played senior championship," he says, "but all the older lads tell me that it's a different game, so much quicker." (Lynch will make his first senior start that coming Sunday, when Limerick beat Clare in the Munster quarter-final.)

It's a bright day in May 2015, at a media event for the All-Ireland under-21 hurling championship, Lynch also playing a central role in Limerick winning that title later in the season (for the first time since 2002, winning again in 2017).


Lynch speaks openly about his own ambitions with Limerick, partly based on the tales he was born and raised on. It began with Limerick's famous Munster hurling semi-final win over Clare in 1996, when Lynch was aged about six months, and being held in the arms of his mother Valerie. Clare were defending All-Ireland champions, red-hot favourites, and poised for victory, until Limerick brilliantly triumphed at the death – thanks to the now legendary fetch, run and winning point from captain Ciarán Carey.

So unfolded the slightly less legendary tale of Valerie throwing her infant son into the air, and very nearly missing him on the way down. There was also a perfectly good reason for his mother's enthusiasm, given Carey is her brother, and his uncle. Lynch is particularly proud of the Carey connection, not just of Ciarán but Pa Carey too, who also starred with Limerick in the 1990s.

Lynch also acted as the club mascot when Patrickswell won the county title in 2003, before he helped them win it back in 2016, and 2019. He was also captain of the 2014 Limerick minors, who lost that All-Ireland final to Kilkenny, also winning the Munster minor title in 2013, Limerick's a first since 1984. Also graduating from those under-21 teams are Richie English, Seán Finn, Diarmuid Byrnes, Gearóid Hegarty, Darragh O'Donovan and Tom Morrissey.

Five years on, still only 24, Lynch is now centrally fixed at midfield, having started out at wing forward. He's also beefed up considerably (weighing in at 76kg when first joining the senior panel in 2015, and now is up to 85kg), and victory on Sunday would leave Limerick unbeaten all year, a feat last achieved by Kilkenny in 2006 (although they did draw one league game). The last team to win every hurling game in the same year was Tipperary in 1961.

Lynch's winning CV also includes two Dr Harty Cup titles with Ardscoil Rís, two Fitzgibbon Cup with Mary Immaculate College, his first senior All-Ireland with Limerick in 2018 capped off with his first All Star, and All Star Hurler of the Year award – this season already delivering back-to-back Munster and league titles.

For JJ Delaney, Kilkenny’s nine-time All-Ireland winner, Limerick’s unbeaten run is merely reflective of them being the most consistent team of the last three years, and win or lose on Sunday, that should continue for a few years yet.

“They’re all coming through used to winning minor or under-21, they’re used to winning, the same group of players,” says Delaney, speaking at a Sky Sports GAA media event. “And even if they don’t win this one, they’ll be in another final in another couple of years because they have the age group, and they’re good enough, which is the most important thing. Going unbeaten though, from a player’s point of view, I wouldn’t say they even realise that. Which is a great sign for this team.

"Compared to the team of 2007 [which Kilkenny beat in the All-Ireland final], at the moment, their system, their work rate, they'd be more superior. In '07, they were more reliant on players like Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Ollie Moran, to get them over the line. We knew if we could stop those couple of players, that was half the battle, whereas if you look at this Limerick team, the likes of Cian Lynch coming on top of you, everyone is asking where is their weak point?

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics