Lynch and Limerick delighted by impressive return to the top flight

Midfielder says county will relish new challenges after vital win seals promotion

Limerick’s Cian Lynch gets away from Galway’s Jack Grealish during the Division 1B league clash at Salthill. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Limerick’s Cian Lynch gets away from Galway’s Jack Grealish during the Division 1B league clash at Salthill. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

At half-time in Salthill on Sunday, the Limerick hurlers faced a stark choice.

By then, most of the country had forgotten about them; trailing by 0-8 against the league and All-Ireland champions meant nobody would have passed much notice if they simply lost and accepted another year in division 1B. What nobody legislated for was the depth of their desire to get out of the lower tier.

“For most of the lads there, they have been in division 1B since they started playing” midfielder Cian Lynch said minutes afterwards, standing in the tunnel and looking out at on the pitch where several hundred delight Limerick supporters had gathered.

“You can see what it means to the Limerick supporters. It has been a long time since Limerick won consistently, won a few games or a big game like that today. A lot of people expect mothers to be at home enjoying Mother’s Day but a lot of them were there today. It just shows that Limerick people are passionate people.

“When you are winning or a team is going well, it is nice to see the smiles on the faces and that is what it is about. It is great to play. To see the young fellas, to see where we were 10 years ago looking up at the older lads, it means a lot. It is about time we started standing up, getting involved, taking it to teams, instead of waiting for teams to take it to us. Luckily enough we came out on top here. There is no point sitting back enjoying that for the rest of the year. We have to drive on.”

In any interview or team talk I wasn’t going to mention what it would mean to move on to 1A because it becomes too much a load to carry. But it is a huge relief.

Re-establishing Limerick hurling as a consistent force has been a dramatic and often heartbreaking saga. The last All-Ireland, in 1973, is a dimming touchstone and they county has just one Munster senior championship, claimed in 2013, in over 20 seasons.

Limerick have been locked into the hurling’s fringe division since 2010. It only became apparent to them how urgently they wanted out of there when they set about clawing their way back into the match in Salthill.

They brought a ferocity and speed to the game that had been lacking in the first half and dragged Galway into a battle they weren’t expecting. John Kiely had privately hoped and expected that this moment would arrive but he could say afterwards that gaining promotion wasn’t an ambition he emphasised over the spring.

“Absolute relief. In any interview or team talk I wasn’t going to mention what it would mean to move on to 1A because it becomes too much a load to carry. But it is a huge relief. We were tired of being in 1B. Tired of not being involved in the bigger games and having the bigger teams come to town. We mightn’t win four games next year – mightn’t win two – but at least we have the exposure of playing at the top level at that time of the year.”

Significant step

It was Lynch’s 68th minute point that gave Limerick their first lead of the match. Limerick’s energy and appetite was impressive but the reversal of fortunes was built on their defence.

There is a good chance Galway will hold on to their league title whether they have been promoted or not. The maroon team had nothing to prove to themselves on this occasion

They coughed up 1-15 in the first 35 minutes. In the second half, they held the most potent strike force in the game to just a point from play and 0-4 in total. And crucially, they had the poise to defend – and extend – their lead when Galway finally upped their own sense of urgency in the final quarter.

But by then, Limerick had got a sniff of an elusive chance to take a significant step forward. It felt as if more than a mere league promotion was riding on this game; that it was about a young team proving to themselves that they could match a side in a contest they both wanted to win. It might only have been the league and March.

And there is a good chance Galway will hold on to their league title whether they have been promoted or not. The maroon team had nothing to prove to themselves on this occasion. But had Limerick fallen short, they would have found themselves back in the same old same old as they faced into the championship. Now, they advance to play Clare in the quarter-finals with the sense of having achieved something real.

“We knew what we were up against there today,” said Lynch.

“You can never underestimate Galway. You saw what they did last year, saw the calibre of player they had on the field and who came off the bench. We knew at half-time there was a strong breeze. We kept the head down and we stayed focused. We just stepped up, went into fifth gear and had to drive it on. Galway could have easily come out on top. That’s hurling. There is no point sitting back. It is about driving on.”

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