To be young is very heaven for these Limerick hurlers

Limerick hurlers Shane Downling (holding the John Daly cup), Declan Hannon (holding the Liam MacCarthy cup), and Cian Lynch (holding the Allianz national hurling league trophy). Photo by Diarmuid Greene

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven, as Wordsworth mused in reference to the Limerick hurling set-up in the spring of 2019.

How much fun must it be to be a Limerick hurler right now? Barely out of short trousers and already immortal. The average age of their All-Ireland winning starting 15 was just 23 and that’s including wizened old Graeme Mulcahy (28) and decrepit geriatric Nicky Quaid (29).

To make you feel really old, the birth dates of the rest of Limerick’s hurling heroes neatly span the entirety of the Britpop years, Declan Hannon arriving into the world to the strains of Suede’s eponymous 1992 debut, while Seamus Flanagan presumably made his first gurgling noises accompanied by Manic Street Preachers’ 1998 feelgood hit ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’.

What had you accomplished by the age of 23? Failed two driving tests and traipsed the backpacker hostels of Western Australia? Impressive, but not quite the same as delivering your people from 45 years of heartache and despair.

Graeme Mulcahy.
Graeme Mulcahy.

And they’re only getting started, it seems. Sunday’s almost casual addition of the Allianz Hurling League title to last August’s glory has seen a number of rough-sketch conclusions drawn.

First, that the only team to have managed that recently are Kilkenny; ipso facto, could Limerick be the new Kilkenny? Second, that John Kiely’s charges quite clearly Did Not Lose The Run Of Themselves as they celebrated their historic success. And thirdly that Limerick have made what is known in the trade as A Statement Of Intent about what they plan to get up to this year.

On that last point, Limerick had already made a statement of intent long before last Sunday. It came earlier in the year, when they emerged from hibernation unencumbered by the traditional lager-and-Quality Street winter coat.

Even by the standards of the modern bionic GAA player, Limerick were in serious physical shape right from the start of the season, and not only that, boy were they determined to show it! A new, tighter jersey was commissioned and JP McManus’ ‘Sporting Limerick’ logo jettisoned, all the better to display the majesty of those Treaty torsos.

How were the poor unfortunate men of Division 1A supposed to concentrate on the task at hand with the spectacle of sinew that confronted them on spring Sundays? There has not been such wanton display of abs and pecs since Peter Andre’s chart-topping heyday.

The incredible thing is that all this bodily chiselling has not been achieved at the expense of finesse and touch. Although built like Ivan Drago, the average Limerick star is no rock-fisted killing machine. Limerick’s body fat percentage and skill quotient have moved in opposite directions since their All-Ireland win, seeing them become even more physically dominant, while at the same time further refining the precision technique that their possession game demands.

And for all the engineering, there is still room for poetry. Aaron Gillane’s astonishing flick last Sunday or the expressive move that led to Seamus Flanagan’s strike against Dublin in the semi-final will surely both make the Goal of the Year shake-up, no matter what happens in the summer.

Of course, it is forbidden by law to conduct any analysis of Limerick’s league success without mentioning that it is only the league, or to bear in mind the grim soothsayings of Jackie Tyrrell from a few weeks back. “They’re nearly going too well for me now,” he shrieked, like one of the witches in Macbeth foreshadowing dark tidings. “I would be wrapping some of those lads in cotton wool and holding them back a bit.”

And although it seems like Limerick have moved hurling on from the sweeper system era by using clever distribution to avoid opposition roadblocks, rest assured their rivals will be using April’s down days to pull at any of the All-Ireland champions’ loose threads and see what might unravel.

This unforgiving glare awaits Limerick in the summer, as does, in Brendan Cummins’ memorable phrase, the rats-in-a-barrel Munster championship.

And yet this late spring is bliss to be alive for Limerick and their followers, the pause in the inter-county season pregnant with the promise of what lies ahead.

The joy of youth lies partly in that sense of what might be possible, and if anything has hallmarked Kiely’s stewardship of these boys since 5.13pm on Sunday, August 19 last, it is the idea that this is only the start of their journey.

"They’ve handled it really well,” Kiely said in the satisfied afterglow of last Sunday’s win.

They have handled themselves really well. Obviously, physically, they have looked after themselves. They haven’t lost sight of the fact that this is a hurling career. It is not a hurling year.

It must be intoxicating for these guys to be writing such a bold new chapter for in their county’s hurling story.

A few weeks ago, TG4’s Laochra Gael profiled Andrew O’Shaughnessy, the star forward in Limerick’s run to the 2007 All-Ireland final. A brilliant underage player and member of U21 All-Ireland winning teams whose career was prematurely ended by multiple sclerosis, he was the type of super-talented technician with the mentality of an elite athlete who would have fitted in perfectly with the current bunch.

Alas, he was born in the years when Wham!, not Blur, ruled the charts.

Limerick had no right to dream of what they do today when Shaughs played; to be young is very heaven indeed for this team. Granted, Wordsworth was actually referring to the egalitarian idealism of the French Revolution in those famous lines, before that degenerated into bloodthirsty carnage beyond even the most keenly-contested Munster Championship encounter.

Then again, it wouldn’t be like these Limerick hurlers to lose their heads.

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