I watched the Limerick-Galway game in the RTÉ Studio in Montrose yesterday afternoon, just after Michael Duignan and I had watched the Tipperary-Cork game live.
Just before the final whistle blew, I said to Michael: “Wait for the pitch invasion now.”
As soon as the referee blew the final whistle, the Limerick hordes jumped the barriers and stormed the field.
It was a liberation from almost a decade spent tied up in Division 1B chains, and Limerick deserved to experience that beautiful moment.
It wasn’t Championship. The sun wasn’t shining as high as it will be in June and July but sometimes there are points on a team’s odyssey that deserve to be embraced and recognised for how big they are on that journey.
I was delighted for Limerick because I know how much this means to their supporters. I remember when I was Limerick minor coach and winning a dramatic Munster semi-final against Cork in 2015 with a last-minute goal from Peter Casey and the crowd invading the pitch afterwards.
We were playing Tipperary in the Munster final the following week. I was more concerned with the warm-down and getting the pitch cleared but when I looked back on it afterwards, I realised how much big wins like those mean to a county starved of success.
Limerick have had their underage success in recent years but yesterday was the first glimpse of that talent maturing and developing into the team they are capable of becoming.
They just have to stay grounded now, and allow John Kiely and his management to steer this team in the direction they are going.
The whole county will breathe a sigh of relief this morning but what would be wrong now with winning the league? It certainly didn’t do Galway any harm last year.
Next Sunday will be a great test to see where Limerick are really at because Clare will be back to the level they were at for their opening three games.
They will be flying fit too, unlike Galway who clearly ran out of gas in the second half. One point from play in that period confirmed as much.
Galway will be disappointed with that level of performance but I fancied Limerick yesterday purely because I expected them to be hungrier but I also sensed that they would be further down the line in terms of physical preparation.
That became more apparent as the game went on. When the Galway boys were lying on a beach in Cancun, the Limerick lads were running and that greater volume of gas in the tank told when both teams had to sprint for the line.
Galway will accept as much but they will also acknowledge that this was a wake-up call. They are a seriously talented team but they are not Kilkenny in their prime.
I know it myself with Clare; counties like Clare and Galway can’t just hit the cruise button coming off All-Ireland wins. It’s not in our DNA.
In another sense, Micheál Donoghue may not be too annoyed. The manner of this defeat, especially when they were ahead by eight points at half-time, will lengthen the stick to beat them with for the next few days.
With Wexford having denied them promotion last year, Micheál could use next weekend’s rematch as the ideal opportunity to stoke the fire again now besides waiting until the summer to do so. I think he will because it’s easy to get into a glide-mode.
There was still a real edge to the game. It did spill over at times.
There could have been a couple of red cards but Limerick kept their heads and drove on, especially their young lads.
Seamus Flanagan may have been taken off but he looked to have run into the ground because he was outstanding when notching five points from play. What is that going to do for his confidence going forward? What is this win going to do for Limerick full stop?
What a Munster championship we are now in for though? Waterford will be buoyed up after two successive wins. They will take confidence from that result, even if Clare were already qualified, whereas Cork must be questioning themselves after four successive defeats.
Watching Cork-Tipp live, it never had that same sense of urgency or championship feel, which was surprising given what was at stake for both teams. Tipp hit piles of wides and they still scored 1-24.
Anthony Nash made three brilliant saves, including one incredible stop with his foot, which could have made the scoreline far uglier from a Cork perspective.
And yet, Tipp nearly still always find a way to give a team a chance. When the Tipp goal went in, the game looked done and dusted, but Cork chipped away with points and it was a nervy last few minutes, including injury-time, for Tipp.
I would be slightly worried if I was John Meyler. We are all banking on them being a top-of-the-ground team but you can’t just flick a switch either in the summer and expect it to happen.
Cork need to start making it happen quickly because, as much as Meyler keeps saying that this campaign has been all about finding new players and expanding his panel, the locals, and especially the county board, won’t want to see the team in 1B next year.
And especially now with Galway rooted there for another season.
There were some positives. Alan Cadogan was outstanding. He gave Donagh Maher, who I rate highly, a torrid time.
Patrick Horgan was also sharp. Even when some players are not firing, Cork will still put up a decent score but you’d have to be concerned with the number of scoring chances Cork coughed up again yesterday.
After the opening round of the league, Cork looked like a team moving forward whereas the prophets of doom were predicting the opposite for Kilkenny. Look at them again now? Odds on to qualify for the semi-finals. Again.
Yesterday was also a positive day for Dublin, who avoided the dreaded relegation final and who have a quarter-final against Tipperary to look forward to.
Nobody will expect them to win that match but it’s another opportunity for Pat Gilroy and his players to gauge the incremental progress they seem to have made as the campaign has progressed.
Yesterday, though, belonged to Limerick. When I was looking at the monitor afterwards, you could see all the diehards and the look of absolute joy on their faces.
It was obvious too how much it meant to the players, especially those guys who have soldiered on this team in 1B throughout this decade.
There was no cup given out yesterday. It wasn’t Championship.
The clocks haven’t even gone forward yet but, whatever Limerick do for the rest of this year, I am sure they will look back on the events in Pearse Stadium as a critical moment in the modern history of Limerick hurling.
No matter what Limerick have done — both at underage and senior — in the last few years, being marooned in 1B for so long has hung over the county like a pall of dead air.
Well the cloud has finally lifted. And the chains have been cast off. At last.
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