It is hardly insulting Limerick to suggest the water breaks these last couple of seasons have appealed to them more than other teams. The best sides make the most of the opportunity to assess and recalibrate. Look at how Dublin in the Jim Gavin era and Dessie Farrell’s first year returned to the field transformed after the half-time break. Any time Paul Kinnerk has the opportunity to address the players in an in-game situation is a good time. Sunday was different but Limerick’s trend is not to start quickly — across their nine-game winning SHC run these last two seasons they have led at the first water break on just four occasions.
Tot up the margins for those nine first quarters and they are minus one. Contrast that to their second quarters when they have been the better team on six occasions and boast an aggregate lead of 24 points and that is in spite of Tipperary blitzing them in that period of the Munster final.
John Kiely was more vocal than other any manager in his opposition to the maor foirne role being disbanded. Yet with the assistance of the one-minute intervals in the middle of each half they have been able to overcome it. If they are done away with next season, that coach-team interface is interrupted.
If only to show that Limerick are not completely infallible, the expected return of the league format in Munster next year may give hope to their rivals. They will reenter that format a far stronger side than the last time they played it in 2019 and you would imagine the more matches they get to play, the more they will finetune. But with an extra load there are risks and Limerick have lost three games and drawn a match in those two previous round robin stagings.
Assuming the original schedule for the 2020 championship, that was later rearranged as a knockout competition, will apply in 2022, Limerick travel to Cork in Round 1, host Waterford a week later, make the short trip to Ennis in Round 3, entertain Tipperary in Round 4 and have a bye in Round 5. Four games in five weekends will be a challenge. Only Tipperary have thus far managed to win all of their round robin games and their gap weekend fell nicely in Round 4, allowing them two weeks to prepare for Limerick.
Kiely won’t mind a slip-up here or a draw there so long as they don’t concede any psychological ground to those in their province who, let’s be honest, are likely to be their nearest rivals.
There was obviously method in their madness but how Kiely and Seán Finn openly acknowledged the team let themselves down at stages during the year — Kiely apologising for suggesting Galway players feigned injuries and Finn admitting they couldn’t afford a repeat of some bad behaviour in the Munster final — demonstrated why they are such a high-achieving group. Imagine what was said in camp to Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan after that game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh?
Neither would have been left in any doubt that their actions were unacceptable. If Peter Casey isn’t already singing The Verve’s ‘Lucky Man’ in the post-final celebrations, he should be getting acquainted with the lyrics.
He more than justified Limerick’s decision to defend him with those five first-half points on Sunday but are these incidents happening too much for Kiely’s liking? There is little doubt Limerick’s discipline improved following the league after which Gearóid Hegarty acknowledged they had been fouling too much and there are hardly going to move away from the manic intensity they have brought to games but it does carry risks.
The most unlikely of these possibilities given the character of the men and women involved, hence why we have placed it last of the four but with such unprecedented success comes the danger of getting carried away. In January 2019, Flanagan gave an extraordinary interview where he exclaimed “no one is going to outwork us” — “you can plan all you want for us, mark us, drop a sweeper, drop two sweepers, but once we work harder than you, we’re going to beat you, we’re going to get those hooks, get those blocks, get those scores and I don’t know how you can plan against that.”
He also said: ‘“You want to be putting back-to-back titles, if not more…”
Flanagan had a season to forget in 2019 but roared back last season and is on the verge of a first All-Star this year. Talking big only to fall flat, it was an invaluable lesson for the full-forward.
Limerick haven’t shied away from backing themselves between quotation marks — Tom Morrissey has regularly followed large words with large deeds and Kiely now speaks of the team not yet hitting their peak — but it will be a task not to trip up on the garlands thrown their way.
Maybe our eardrums have become used to the muted and the absent but the sustained guttural cheers that greeted the pre-match parade on Sunday was a life-affirming couple of minutes.
There was some artificiality, granted. Some of it seemed piped in and the microphones that picked up the Artane Boys Band’s playing obviously amplified the roars of the crowd but the vocal support of 40,000 would have rivalled any full house.
As Gearóid Hegarty said of the parade: “People were giving it that bit extra, they were just delighted to be there and delighted to be back to normality.”
Yearning, anticipation, excitement, the march had it all.
Missing from last year’s All-Ireland final, Limerick’s following were making up for lost time and they were hitting high decibels throughout the game.
The eruption following Shane Kingston’s goal was an outpouring from a Cork fanbase cooped up for 16 months, never mind the wait of 16 years for All-Ireland senior glory.
Understandably, an envious eye has been cast at the GAA particularly from the live entertainment sector which unfairly continues to be kept under virtual lock and key.
Video footage of supporters in close quarters on Jones Road have been uploaded as if their behaviour should shame the Government into allowing the same at concerts but this was emancipation.
As GAA commercial and stadium director Peter McKenna highlighted in this newspaper last week, the wearing of masks has become a difficulty at games but there is only so much that can be controlled.
Covid protocol compliance, by international standards, has been extraordinary here.
For this Saturday’s Kerry-Tyrone All-Ireland semi-final, the crowd capacity will return to 24,000, an arbitrary decrease all things considered.
Society is healing but when so many have been vaccinated the process is laboriously slow.
Listening to him speak on Sunday after his current two-year term elapsed, it seems a given John Kiely will remain in charge of Limerick into 2022. But what about the chasing pack?
Clare: Brian Lohan has one year remaining in his current term but he has received an extension after two Covid-affected seasons in charge.
Cork: Kieran Kingston will take some time out over the next couple of months. He has one year remaining in his three-year agreement and it is anticipated he will see it out.
Dublin: Mattie Kenny appears set to remain on as manager but he will be linked with his native Galway, whom he has beaten twice now in Championship.
Galway: Shane O’Neill seems keen to stay with the Tribesmen, although there is a lot of uncertainty around the senior camp right now.
Kilkenny: It’s usually around November time that Brian Cody makes his intentions known to the county board but they might be announced earlier this time around.
Tipperary: All indications are the county board executive want Liam Cahill to succeed Liam Sheedy. The Tipperary public certainly do. Cahill and Michael Bevans are seen as the duo to guide the team through transition.
Waterford: It would be wise for the Déise to get contingency plans in place in the event Cahill steps down to move closer to home. Should that happen, they could be looking outside the county again.
Wexford: It had been touted but Derek McGrath is not expected to succeed Davy Fitzgerald. The likes of Willie Maher and Jason Ryan are in the reckoning.
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