Dowling: players thrived as fun returned to Limerick hurling
Something special gelled over the hot summer between management and a fearless panel
Shane Dowling celebrates Limerick’s win: “I’m probably being biased here , but it’s probably the greatest All-Ireland ever won. It has to be.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Every All-Ireland winner looks back on what felt like turnings point in the season. For Shane Dowling one of them was eating a 99 ice cream with his Limerick team-mates after training at the Gaelic Grounds, at the height of the blissfully warm summer.
With that came the realisation that all the fun and natural relaxation which he felt had gone out of Limerick hurling was back – and anything was possible after that.
There were other turning points too (taking Tipperary to extra-time in the league semi-final), but something and everything about the mood within the team told Dowling what he needed he know.
“It’s mad how this game has changed,” says Dowling, at 25 hardly the elder statesman, but he has played minor at 16, and seven years already on the senior panel. “Ten years ago, you wouldn’t touch a drop of liquor from January till nearly the end of the season. None.
“Now, after every championship game, we all go and enjoy ourselves, management included. The whole enjoyment side, which I believe was gone for the last number of years, because of how serious it went, that’s after going full circle again, and people are after buying back into the amateur, enjoyment side of it, which is very important.
“Especially with this group of lads. You’d want to see them, half an hour, 40 minutes before throw-in, if you walked into the dressing room, you’d genuinely say to yourself ‘are these boys actually going hurling in an All-Ireland final?...
“Cian Lynch has talked about the fun element as well, and myself and Cian would be very similar. I knew him before he came on the scene, and the one thing we talked about was the whole enjoyment side, and for a while it was gone, and we kept trying to bring it back in.
“Even small things, like the odd occasion after training, the 99 ice cream van would pull into the Gaelic Grounds, and everyone is just chilling out on the field, having an ice cream. That would not have been heard of five or six years ago.”
This season Dowling found himself in the role of impact sub, and Sunday’s final was no exception – coming on after 56 minutes, before scoring what proved to be a crucial goal. It hasn’t been easy, Dowling suggesting that Na Piarsaigh’s All-Ireland club run, which ended in a replay defeat to Cuala, also impacted on his chances to nail down a starting place. There are however absolutely no complaints.
“Definitely, if you were there at the start of the year, some lads mightn’t have got opportunities, and they took them, which was fantastic, don’t get me wrong. Were we victims of our own success? We probably were.
“Genuinely, I believe I’ve been lucky. What I’ve been saying to myself in the last couple of weeks is to take it as a compliment, that the game’s in the melting pot with 20 minutes to go and I have to go in and try and finish it off, that’s the way I was looking at it. It’s the only way to look at it, to be honest with you.
Back in October, Dowling spoke about his belief that Limerick would some day win the All-Ireland: “I just didn’t know how long it was going to take or whether it was going to happen,” he says.
“Sometimes you do end up getting carried away, and then say, listen Shane... ‘you were beaten by Clare, beaten by Kilkenny last year, you’re a million miles away from it’, and we probably were too.
“But I always say, you need so much luck to win an All-Ireland. I don’t care what anyone says. You need everything to be right first of all, between management, players, off the field, on the field. And when that’s right, you still need a lot of luck on the field.
I mean that last free for Joe Canning, a hurley could have went to that, and it ended up in the back of the net very, very quickly. People say you make your own luck, you do but you definitely need a touch of something
“And a replay would have been like a loss to Limerick, considering. Obviously we would have regrouped and gone again, but it would have felt like a loss, definitely. If we drew that game it would have been a disaster.
“What makes me smile as well, and I’m probably being biased here, but it’s probably the greatest All-Ireland ever won. It has to be.”