At half-time in last year’s All-Ireland minor final, I was walking down the tunnel beside Pat Donnelly. Limerick were trailing by just one point to Tipperary. We felt we had a great chance but it didn’t happen for us. It was a huge disappointment for Pat, and for Limerick, who had lost a second All-Ireland minor final in three years, but Saturday’s All-Ireland U21 victory was nice vindication for Pat, and the minors of 2014 and 2016.
Limerick were the better team. They have way more balance but they had been waiting for three years to redress the 2014 All-Ireland minor final defeat to Kilkenny. Hurt and pain is a powerful motivation but you cannot argue with class either, and you certainly can’t deny the quality Limerick have shown all season.
Any team that beats Tipperary, Clare, Cork, Galway and Kilkenny more than deserves to win any All-Ireland.
It was obvious the experience Limerick had in their team, with eight of them already having tasted senior championship action. Andrew la Touche-Cosgrove is a serious player as well, another guy with a big future, but he couldn’t make the starting team. He will mature but some of Limerick’s younger guys are already on the path to becoming serious inter-county players; Kyle Hayes, last year’s minor captain, was brilliant at centre-back. Conor Boylan, another minor last year, was very impressive when he came on. The depth to the Limerick bench merely copper-fastened the sense that this is a special team, with close to half the side winning a second All-Ireland U21 medal in three seasons.
I was delighted for Limerick because of having worked so closely with that management team over the last three years through my involvement with the county’s underage academy. Along with Pat, I had also soldiered alongside Mikey Kiely and Brian Foley, while Mossy O’Brien was with me as a player in Dublin for years, winning a league and Leinster title.
When Mossy returned home, he was a guy I suggested about getting back involved in the academy. I told Joe McKenna about him, to make sure he went after him. I had Mossy in mind for another underage job but when Joe discovered how highly I thought of Mossy, he snapped him up for the U21s.
The result was never really in doubt. Limerick had an iron grip on the match in the first half with the wind. They led by seven points at the break but the game could nearly have been put to bed by then if Limerick had taken a couple of goal chances. One of those was only a half chance but if Cian Lynch had popped the ball into Aaron Gillane, the Patrickswell man would have been straight through. With the form Gillane was in, he’d almost certainly have buried it.
The only time there was any real excitement in the match, or sense that this was game-on, was when Kilkenny got a run late on to reduce the deficit to four points. Yet Limerick just pressed hard on the accelerator and sped over the line.
This was another hard day in a hard year for Kilkenny. My late great neighbour Patsy O’Loughlin had this saying, ‘If you haven’t paint, you can’t paint’. I’m not suggesting that Brian Cody has nothing to work with going forward but he certainly wouldn’t have been rubbing his hands like he normally does after what he witnessed on Saturday evening.
You would feel for Eddie Brennan. He wasn’t slow to make changes but it looked like he was replacing like for like. Sometimes if you don’t have ‘em, you just don’t have ‘em. The best move Eddie made all evening was to bring on Alan Murphy, who was doubling up as their sub keeper, but there was little threat elsewhere. John Donnelly got one half chance of a goal. Liam Blanchfield looked threatening early on until Tommy Grimes got to grips with him. Kilkenny needed a goal but they didn’t even have a decent chance. The Limerick goalkeeper Eoghan McNamara touched the ball just once in open play, a handy clearance with a few minutes left.
I’ve said this numerous times already in relation to Limerick but they need to be patient now. Look at Galway, and the teams they have had at underage, and how long it has taken them to win the big one. John Kiely and his senior management need time to bed all of these guys in.
They also need to learn from the past, and the mistakes made when they won three All-Irelands in-a-row between 2000-02. It’s only 15 years ago so it’s not too long to go back and learn from those errors. There is always something to be learned.
With Limerick, I’ve always felt that the highs are too high, and the lows are too low. From working in the county, I often found there was an element there too quick to criticise. There will always be bumps along the road but the public need to believe in the senior management, and trust them to take these guys onto the next level. I’ll say it again – just look at Galway.
It is ten years now since Kilkenny last won an U21 title, which further underlines how much the landscape has changed. Galway and Waterford reaching the senior final corroborated that shift but when we look back on 2017, I’m sure every county manager is thinking that if they get their act together, that anything is possible for 2018.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to salute Kerry’s great victory over Wicklow in the U21B final on Saturday. From my involvement in Kilmoyley over the years, I got to know Ian Brick well, the Kerry manager. When we won the 2008 and 2009 Kerry senior championships, Ian was a stalwart number 4 on those teams, a great fella. Saturday was a fantastic day for him, especially with his son Jordan playing wing-forward.
You had all the traditional north Kerry clubs but it was great to see Barry O’Sullivan from Dingle in the middle of the field, a super footballer. The Dingle lads traditionally hurled with Kilmoyley. Paul Geaney played with us in 2009. There was always a link there but it’s great to see the Dingle name standing on the team sheet now. It was heartening too to see a lad from Dr Crokes on the squad on Saturday and it won’t be long before we see Tralee Parnells represented.
If Kerry can get the pace of their hurling up another notch or two, there is no reason they cannot build on the progress the county has made at senior level in recent years. Because they certainly have enough good young lads coming through.
Finally, we are all relieved to have survived the senior relegation final in Clare with Clarecastle yesterday. Senior is everything for us and although we hate to see a Feakle team that has made such progress in recent years go back down, the relief on the faces of former teammates and neighbours made getting back involved all worthwhile.
Cork’s plan looks good
At the Sunday Game production meeting last week, we were discussing the new championship proposals, which are up for debate at Special Congress in three weeks. One of the lads was totally against any change. ‘What harm if they show 20 football matches to just three hurling late on in the season? If the three hurling matches are epics, they will still blow the football out of the water.’
As I was going off afterwards to get my suit on, I was wondering if I should have contributed more to the meeting. When the new football Super 8 proposals were introduced last February at Congress, I felt it was a negative for hurling, with the lack of matches compared to football.
When these new hurling proposals were later floated before championship, I was all for them, where the provincial championships are played on a round-robin basis, with a final to decide who progresses to the semi-finals. The runners-up and third-placed teams in Leinster and Munster then head to the quarter-finals.
However, I like the look of Cork’s proposed motion, which wishes to protect the provincial championship structure and replicate the Super 8 football format.
I see the merit of not having a round robin in Munster and Leinster but you’d reach a stage where you’d have the top eight teams fighting it out at the high point of the season. It is nearly a second competition but at least we’d have the Munster championship as we’ve always known it.
The home-and-away arrangement for the Central Council round-robin proposal was a big attraction, but the more I thought about that set-up, the more I wondered about it. How would the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh look for a Cork-Clare game? Would the Clare crowd really travel? Would many Limerick fans go to Walsh Park for a game where, apart from pride, little or nothing was on the line?
I just feel the Cork proposal would work better. It would give us an elongated season, which many of us are already concerned about with the All-Ireland finals being moved to August. A round robin in July would be cut-throat from the get-go. I don’t see too many dead-rubbers in that set-up.