Player watch: Cian Lynch is Limerick’s free spirit and its driving force

The greatest gift in his repertoire is his constant wish to involve his team mates

The most disconcerting thing about Cian Lynch is that his primary objective seems to be to help his team-mates to thrive. Every team knows that a key to disrupting Limerick is to somehow thwart the influence of Lynch. But he seems to ghost and drift around the best plans and the attention of defenders, to play his own game at his own pace and with his own uniquely brilliant vision.

It took just 12 seconds for Lynch to open the scoring in this All-Ireland final. There was something about the point that foretold what was about to happen. Lynch looked so relaxed and self-assured in the moment that even then, any vague notions that Cork might produce a shock began to feel a bit ridiculous.

After that opening, Lynch touched the ball a further six times in the half to tremendous effect. His next involvement was in the third minute when he collected a loose Cork pass in front of the Cusack stand sideline and glanced up. He always appears to have that second of spare time to take a mental photo of the field of play before he makes his move.

He cut infield through two Cork defenders. Too late, the challengers saw Gearóid Hegarty hammering a straight line towards goal. Lynch's handpass was flighted perfectly in front of his team mate and he watched as Hegarty fired low past Patrick Collins.

That made the score 1-4 to 1-1 after eight minutes. In that moment, the All-Ireland final was absolutely thriving: two attacking teams going at each other. But it felt as if Limerick were at any moment about to move into a different realm. Goals have been the one aspect of the game in which Limerick haven’t always had their own way.

To manufacture one so early was a sharp statement. In the 34th minute, the pair combined again, with Lynch this time finding Hegarty with a sleight of hand - and foot - handpass on the turn as he spun Mark Coleman. The pass gave Hegarty the space to collect the ball, gather momentum, sidestep Robert Downey and fire his second goal.

Hegarty had, by his rampaging standards, an in-out sort of game and still had 2-2 from play by half time. Lynch was the provider for both of his goals.

“Ah I’m getting old now,” Lynch said on television when it was all over. (He is 25 years old).

“The legs are kinda giving way. The last week was mentally tough for everyone. I know for families and supporters it is great leading up to a match but for players it is a long week. You are mad to get out and mad to play.”

Great days

That’s the thing. Lynch has torn through these great days as if they are runaround games with his friends. He is at once Limerick’s free spirit and its driving force. Limerick had hit 3-18 by half time, bettering the full-time total with had won them the All-Ireland final against Galway in 2018. Cork’s cause was, by then, hopeless.

They were simply up against a superior and physically stronger team. The second half was more ragged and prosaic but as Limerick stayed around 15 points beyond the reach of Cork, Lynch kept chasing standards. He struck five points from play over the second half and for each of them, he had the time to survey and check that there wasn’t a better option up ahead.

For all the delightful flicks and no-look passes and his unfathomable speed of hand, the greatest gift in Lynch's repertoire is his constant wish to involve his team mates. Pat Ryan, for instance, was just minutes on the field and operating deep in the full forward line when Lynch took possession beyond the 65.

Straight away, he knew he was looking for the new man and found him with a low, fizzing pass which guided the attacker away from his man and on his way to a first score in an All-Ireland final. Lynch celebrated as though the game was still close.

“Every team goes out with the same ambition to try and be one up on your opponent,” he explained.

“Thank God a few breaks went our way and a few balls went over the bar and into the back of the net. It is just about keeping going and keep pushing each over. It is never over until the final whistle and we had to keep driving on. You can never take your foot off the pedal and that is just showing respect for Cork.”

So three senior All-Irelands in four seasons and closing in on a second Hurler of the Year season, Lynch is at the heart of a dazzling bright era for Limerick hurling. Where it ends - how many titles, how many years - would appear to be in their hands.

“Us from a young age, we had massive disappointments,” he said as the celebrations began.

“We lost an All-Ireland minor semi final and final here. Never give up on your dreams and what you aspire to do.”