Paraphrasing poet Thomas McCarthy, ‘A county rising is a beautiful thing’. Limerick is rising. Their senior hurlers have made sure of that.
Last Sunday at Croke Park was the most remarkable sporting occasion in recent memory in a historical context. And to be there was a real privilege.
Before the train departed Kent Station that morning, I read a wonderful piece by Dermot Crowe in the Sunday Independent in which Eamonn Grimes, famous captain of Limerick’s successful 1973 side, referenced how much he wanted Declan Hannon to experience the joy he had 45 years previously. Baton-passing, and all that.
Grimes came across in the piece as a real gentleman and must have felt a sense of relief when the final whistle was heard at Croker later in the day. He now passes that baton to Hannon, a man wise beyond his years, illustrated beautifully in the construction and deliverance of his victory speech.
There is something radically genuine and grounded about the current group of All-Ireland senior hurling champions from the Treaty county.
Even as a neutral watching their evolution from a distance, it would take a person with a heart of stone to not warm to them.
From Shane Dowling’s post-match quotes to the picture of Cian Lynch hugging his mother on the field afterwards, to Lynch receiving the picture from the Off The Ball crew on Monday via WhatsApp and his reaction to seeing it for the first time, this panel is a damn likeable bunch, it must be said.
And it is interesting to listen to them intermittently refer to the positive social impact their success in the All-Ireland final will have on their city and county.
Possessing social consciousness as a trait is as admirable as it gets for a team so young.
But then, maybe it is indeed their youthfulness in the modern world that makes them so socially conscious. Either way, bravo.
Like their predecessors from ’73, these players also want their success to be utilised by the next generations. The senior hurlers of tomorrow can stand on their shoulders as the future brigades seek their own path to glory down the road.
Trends would suggest both Limerick and Cork are in the stages of their lifecycles in which both teams could share a few All-Ireland titles over the next number of years; not exclusively, of course, but both are definitely primed for future rewards.
And this Limerick team will not be going quietly into the night just because they have made it over the line this year.
Acquiring the services of Paul Kinnerk and Caroline Currid was a shrewd move by John Kiely, too.
Kinnerk and Currid definitely added spicy ingredients to the Treaty’s simmering broth this campaign. Anybody that has seen those individuals make presentations at the annual Gaelic Games Development Conferences, for instance, will understand why so much is being made of their presence in Kiely’s backroom team.
However, Kiely himself is a balanced character that has, as Hannon explained in his celebratory speech, “tied it all together” brilliantly. Kiely is evidently a grounded man, and his panel reflect his personality.
Clearly, too, the players being so conscious of this victory facilitating the development of the next generation stems from Kiely.
“I’m just so thrilled for all the young kids that are at home this morning in Limerick, because that’s the real dividend from this, that spin-off for the thousands of youngsters who are going to go around with hurleys this week, next week and the week after, dreaming of being Cian Lynchs and Shane Dowlings and Peter Caseys and all these guys and not thinking they should be Seamie Callanans or Patrick Horgans or Henry Shefflins, even though they’re great players.
“They have their own standards and their own heroes,” Kiely mused on Monday.
Nowadays, the buzz term for managers is ‘facilitator’. Kiely certainly fits the ‘facilitator’ remit. No airs. No graces. Ultimately, he appreciates it is not about him or his management team. It is about his players transitioning the great days they had at U21 level and nurturing their excellence into an ultra-productive spell at the senior grade.
My grandad was a proud Limerick man and as the closing seconds played out after Joe Canning struck that free ineffectively, I thought of him. It was a unique feeling. I am sure he would have been incredibly content looking down from above. It made me choke up a little, admittedly. It was a moment that encased such gravitas.
However, for those with direct skin in the game, the people of Limerick all around me in Section 324 of the Lower Hogan, emotions were running higher still.
And when Canning’s free dropped short and was brought away from the danger-zone, the eruption that greeted the final whistle was truly marvellous. And deafening, at that.
Sometimes, you just know you are witnessing a historic moment in time, one that will stay with you throughout your life.
As The Cranberries’ 'Dreams' swiftly and sweetly engulfed the ground, even many of the Galway supporters could not help but join those in green in appreciating the magnitude of the bubble Croker had become.
The pictures doing the rounds of families celebrating in the stands give an indication of how emotional it was.
Yet, you really had to be there. It was surreal in many ways.
And for some Limerick folk, they could barely believe it was happening, that their captain was about the walk up those steps in the Hogan to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup.
I have been attending GAA matches and sporting events across the country since I was about six years of age.
And I can honestly say that right at that very moment when Dolores O'Riordan's voice reverberated around Croker last Sunday afternoon was one of my all-time favourite memories in sport. I never witnessed such genuinely raw emotion all over the stands.
Heartiest congratulations to Limerick on an amazing achievement.
The Treaty's history-creators.