Classic ‘game of two halves’ leaves Hegarty and Limerick steeled for semi-final test

Incredible Munster final turnaround leaves champions looking a formidable proposition

Ger Hegarty: “There was nobody inside in our dressing room panicking. Yes, there was a few strong words said in terms of our performance needing to be upped drastically.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Ger Hegarty: “There was nobody inside in our dressing room panicking. Yes, there was a few strong words said in terms of our performance needing to be upped drastically.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Reflecting on the Munster final, Hurler of the Year Gearóid Hegarty says that there were no panic stations at half-time.

That may have been the case in the dressingroom – although supporters may have thought differently. By then the All-Ireland champions were 10 down and Tipperary had been playing their best hurling in two years – if not ever.

Limerick looked thoroughly ambushed but somehow got off the canvas and fought their way out of trouble. You imagine that it’s not an experience they would like to repeat with other opponents, starting with Waterford in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.

How did the period of reflection go?

“We obviously sat down a few days after the game and looked at what went wrong in the first half and what went right in the first half and it just came down to us. We were killing ourselves with our own use of possession. We just did not use the ball well in the first half and we just got punished to the nth degree.

“Tipperary, they were awesome in the first half. They were absolutely incredible. Every single mistake we made seemed to end up in a score of some sort for them but the main thing was nobody panicked at half-time. There was nobody inside in our dressing room panicking. Yes, there was a few strong words said in terms of our performance needing to be upped drastically.”

The signature flourish of a remarkable comeback – a 15-point turnaround in the third quarter – came with Kyle Hayes’s goal in the 54th minute, a long-range solo gallop from the half-back line, cutting a swathe through Tipp’s defence and leaving Dan McCormack floundering in his wake before signing off with a goal.

It wasn’t just opponents who had difficulty keeping up with him. Hegarty is familiar with that sense of coming adrift.

“I have the unfortunate task of marking him a lot in our 15-on-15s the week before the game. Once he gets past you he’s incredibly hard to stop. For a big man – and I’m a big man myself – he’s so fast over the first couple of yards. I’d fancy myself over 100 yards against a lot of fellas but over the first 10 yards he moves like a corner forward.

“So I was maybe 30 yards to the right of him and thinking ‘there probably isn’t much point in a support run here because I’m just not going to stay with him’. He’s a powerful runner and a brilliant fella to be marking in training because he’s one of the best half backs in the country and if you can do well on him it gives great preparation going into any game.”

Closer proximity

Originally Hegarty was used to being in closer proximity to Hayes as, along with Tom Morrissey, they formed the half-forward line that delivered Limerick’s first All-Ireland in 45 years in 2018.

Throughout the championships of that year, 2019 and the first round a year later Hegarty, Hayes and Morrissey started 14 of Limerick’s 15 matches on the same line. The one exception was the Munster round-robin defeat against Tipperary, which the county could afford to lose and still progress and for that Hegarty was rested.

A fortnight later he was back for the provincial final when the half forwards scored 1-9 between the three of them, symbolising the 12-point demolition of Tipp. Last year’s winter championship fixture between the same counties began with news that Hayes was to be positioned at wing back, a switch that puzzled even his team-mates.

“I didn’t see it coming at all,” according to Hegarty.

“It was only when the team was named on the Friday before the Tipp game that we realised he was actually going back there. We had built up a great relationship since the start of 2018, which is a fair long time, particularly with the group stages [provincial round robins], so we’d a lot of matches played together.

“You build up a relationship with the fellas you’re playing with. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed to be losing Kyle but Cian came in and he’s an absolutely incredible hurler as well. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. You’re losing a lot of athleticism in Kyle but you’re bring in Cian Lynch (2018 Hurler of the Year), who’s not a bad replacement.

“At the end of the day, it probably made us stronger as a team and anything that does that is good for me so long may it last.”

It probably will.

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