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Jackie Tyrrell: Limerick should revel in the glory of the ultimate performance

The hurling landscape looks very daunting for challenging counties in the next few years

The aftermath of any All-Ireland win is a really special time. All the nerves are gone, all the planning is over, all the dietary requirements are out the window at last. All that's left is pure joy and satisfaction. We did it, lads. We did it.

But even by those standards, the Limerick lads this week have had the chance to bask in a feeling that very few teams ever experience. It's not just that they did it. It's that they did it in a way that left everyone else in smithereens. They didn't just win an All-Ireland. They blew the rest of hurling away.

It’s such a rare feeling. As brilliant as Limerick are, they will probably never have this feeling again. I don’t doubt that they’ll win more All-Irelands but completely dominating a championship to this extent doesn’t come around too often. It only happened to our Kilkenny team once.

I remember getting a text from a friend on the Monday after the 2008 All-Ireland. A joke had been doing the rounds - “What game started at 3.30 and finished at 3.30?” The first was the throw-in time the day before, the second was our final score. That was the sort of mood that was around Kilkenny that day. Jubilant. Joyful. Proud.


I hope [the Limerick lads] are able to sit around and enjoy themselves and realise that this wasn't just any other All-Ireland

There was a real sense around Kilkenny people that this was the pinnacle for them and for us. We had put in the perfect performance. The game was over at half-time. We hadn't pucked a single wide in the first half. We had only conceded 1-13 in the whole match. There had been so many top-class performances that RTÉ couldn't settle on a man of the match and Brian Cody received the award as recognition of the total team performance.

My brother left so early that he was passing Carlow when the final whistle went. That’s a good 50-minute drive from Croker – but by half-time he had seen enough. There was an untouchable feel to the aftermath for everyone involved.

As players, we were loving the warm glow from it. We really let ourselves go, we were really determined to enjoy it. We had a deep sense that we had hit heights we may never hit again.

I remember sitting back in the pub on the Wednesday and thinking: “This is as good as it gets”. Everything had come together and knitted perfectly and now we were enjoying ourselves. We were bantering among each other over who really deserved man of the match. We were slagging and showing off.

We felt unbeatable just then. Everything we had done had led to an ingrained sense of invincibility about us. We had just landed the three-in-a-row which was extremely hard to do. And we knew it was hard to do. There was very little false modesty about us that week.

In saying that, for all our brave showing off as we celebrated together through those few brilliant days, we still didn’t display it in front of Brian. We were young and we were letting loose but we weren’t totally stupid! But in our own quiet way, when there was just us, we allowed ourselves the luxury of talking about how good we had been. If you can’t celebrate and slightly brag about it and be proud – well, then what’s the point?

I hope the Limerick lads have given themselves that leeway this week. I hope they are able to sit around and enjoy themselves and realise that this wasn’t just any other All-Ireland. This was the one that people will be talking about for decades to come. Whatever else they go on to do, nobody will forget the 2021 Limerick team.

On the face of it, there's no reason Limerick can't dominate the next five years of hurling if they want it enough

I’ve seen a few people trying to do comparisons between this team and ours but I wouldn’t go near any of that stuff. This is Limerick’s time. This is their space to get every accolade they deserve. They are writing their own story, not updating anyone else’s.

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.

Where Limerick go from here is the really interesting question. It is obvious to everyone else that they stand alone right now so you can be sure it’s obvious to them as well. Dealing with that realisation is a nice problem to have but that doesn’t mean it is straightforward.

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.

Having that knowledge within the group is a double-edged sword. It’s obviously very fulfilling to know that if you stick together and prepare correctly and bring what you are about to any game, that you will win no matter what.

We felt like that for a few seasons. No matter what the situation or the conditions, 10 points up or 10 points down, we had a complete and total belief that we could take anyone down. It was more than belief, really. We had certainty. If we do what we do, we will win.

Limerick must have that feeling now every time they go out. You could put on a game in the desert against the best 15 hurlers in Ireland with no water breaks, make Limerick play against the breeze for both halves with sand flying into their face, they will still win it. Why? Because their unity and the sum of their parts is the best by a country mile. There is huge belief and confidence built into this team from the journey they have been on.

The danger is getting ahead of yourself. It’s the difference between knowing you will win and knowing you will win as long as you do what’s required. You can sometimes fall into the trap of trusting in your belief and your confidence a bit too much, thinking it will turn out for the best because that’s what has happened before.

It's obvious to me that our best weapon in 2009 was the belief and confidence that coursed through us from what we achieved in 2008

In Kilkenny, we had a great ability to park the year before and wipe a slate clean. Brian would accept nothing less. We had seen enough guys drop away to know this was not about any one player. It was only about the collective panel. And past glories were never mentioned or dwelt on.

So in 2009, we believed we could go again and we were sure that we were only getting stronger and better. We didn’t see 2008 as some sort of peak – we fully went into the following year intent on bettering it. We thought we could top what we had done the year before.

When I look back at it now from this distance, it's obvious to me that our best weapon in 2009 was the belief and confidence that coursed through us from what we achieved in 2008. We never hit the heights of that All-Ireland final again but I am convinced Tipperary would have beaten us if it hadn't been for the fact that we were coming off a three-in-a-row and such a dominant season.

Tipperary were coming. They were rejuvenated, they were young and they had great management. But in that 2009 final, they couldn’t match us for belief and confidence. How could they? They had nothing to base it on in comparison to us.

That Tipperary team challenged us to go again and it was good for us because they provided us with motivation to take on a fresh team. And not just any team but our greatest rivals. We had fought off Cork, Limerick and Waterford and now a new challenge stood in our way.

Maybe Limerick will need something like that. They look like a team that are challenged first and foremost by themselves, a group that wants to push the ceiling higher every season regardless of what level the rest can get to.

For what it's worth, I don't see a modern version of Tipperary's 2009 team coming looking for them just yet. Tipp had won Munster in 2008 but had lost out in the All-Ireland semi-final. They were beaten by a Waterford team who were playing their fifth All-Ireland semi-final in six years and who couldn't bear not making a final. Waterford's need was greater than Tipperary's in 2008. But that meant that Tipperary's need was greater than almost anybody's in 2009.

Looking around the championship right now, I’m not sure that’s the case. The hurling landscape is very daunting for challenging counties looking in for next year and beyond.

Although it probably feels to a lot of counties right now that Limerick are invincible, sport never works out that way

Some counties are in flux, some are in transition, there's a bit of managerial merry-go-round coming up over the winter. Joe Canning and Brendan Maher have walked off the stage and they probably won't be the last to go. Everybody has issues to address – except the team that has just blitzed the field.

Limerick won’t change what they are about. We never did either. As I said last week, the thought process when you’re a dominant team is that if Plan A isn’t working, Plan B is to do Plan A better. They know their style of play and they have multiple options to cover off the game plan. They have had a great run of key men staying fit.

Maybe the challenge will come from within to keep the ship riding high over any waves that come to overthrow them. On the bench the day we beat Waterford in 2008 were TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and Michael Fennelly. I don't know if Limerick have three future Hurlers of the Year outside their first 15 right now. If they do – look out!

It’s unlikely though, in reality. Although it probably feels to a lot of counties right now that Limerick are invincible, sport never works out that way. People thought that about us in 2008 and yet we were very nearly caught in 2009 and we were beaten out the gate in 2010. Somebody will come from somewhere to hunt Limerick down, probably sooner than we all think.

Isn’t that a fantastic prospect? Tipperary came to challenge us and we ended up having one of the great rivalries, going over and back together for the next decade with some of the best games of hurling ever. If the same happens with Limerick, regardless of who it is that comes to challenge them, the real winners will be the rest of us who get to watch from the sidelines.

For now, we should all savour this Limerick team. They are truly special champions.

PS: This week we lost one of the true legends of my club James Stephens and Kilkenny GAA. Liam "Chunky" O'Brien graced fields up and down the country with his classy stickwork and was one of the greatest we ever had. A true gentleman and true Gael who will be missed. May he Rest in Peace.

Jackie Tyrrell

Jackie Tyrrell, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a former Kilkenny hurler