ANTHONY DALY: Huge ambition and desire driving Limerick

It’s funny how the first shots of a revolution are often fired when a people are on their knees. 

When the Limerick hurlers went on strike in 2010, when the county’s hurling future looked in a perilous state, a group of people looked on the crisis as a turning point for Limerick hurling. They didn’t want to let the rot seep through and affect the underage set-up so the underage Academy was set up soon afterwards.

It hasn’t spawned any major senior success but it is working at underage; successive Munster minor titles, now a first All-Ireland U-21 crown in 13 years. Having been fortunate enough to be involved in the Academy since the beginning of this year I can say first-hand that it is definitely working. Limerick have huge talent coming. Great people are involved. Limerick is definitely a hurling county on the move.

You could say Cork creamed the Academy honours during the recent underage tournaments but they have been playing catch-up and setups like the ones in Limerick,Clare and Waterford is what Cork have been trying to replicate.

That’s obvious with how they have been using CIT and UCC in the same way that Limerick have been using UL.

Jerry Wallace and Brian Ryan did huge work with a lot of these players at minor level over the last few years and, under Joe McKenna’s stewardship, there was a huge correlation to Saturday evening’s success. There is a huge desire and also ambition driving everyone forward. And a real love of the game.

A little story. Richie English has been one of the outstanding players in this championship. He suffered some big disappointments as a minor but he was a hurley carrier for our minor team this summer. On the day of the Munster final, the team-bus left for Limerick at half-time in the senior game. I didn’t leave. Richie was beside me. He wasn’t going to miss the second half of the senior game either. He was worrying about the lift home later.

He was part of an outstanding Limerick defence Saturday night. It was like hitting a ball against the wall for Wexford but Limerick also completely tactically outfoxed Wexford. When Cian Lynch went deep, the Wexford corner-back Simon Donoghue followed him out. The goalkeeper David McCarthy’s puckout strategy was to drive it wide, keep it away from the man-mountain centre-back Padraig Foley, and target Barry Nash, Tom Morrissey and David Dempsey who were running out of the centre. Limerick went to town on Wexford in that space.

The damage was done by the time Wexford put Donoghue back inside, and brought Conor McDonald out around the middle and left two in their full-forward line. All Limerick had to do was keep tipping away with points.

It’s fine to talk about playing systems and gameplans but you need the players to be able to carry it out and John Kiely cleverly knew what was at his disposal. Allowing Cian Lynch a free rein, and a corner-back following him, is looking for trouble unless you have a really good man-marking corner-forward to chain to Lynch.

Still, Limerick had Wexford by the throat everywhere. Nash was in the US for the summer and was only just back but his big scoring return, plus a handful of assists, was serious. He was a huge outlet for puckouts and Jack O’Connor couldn’t shackle him.

These were two big physical teams but Limerick just cleaned Wexford out in the air. They totally dominated the skies. If you have a half-back line that dominant, driving out with that amount of ball and giving a constant outlet, it’s a serious launchpad. Diarmuid Byrnes, Barry O’Connell and Gearoid Hegarty were zooming along as if they were on the runway at Shannon airport.

Wexford were tactically naive but it doesn’t say much for the Leinster provincial championship either. It also underlined how much of a disastrous fixture the All-Ireland semi-final against the Ulster champions is. I know Antrim beat Wexford two years ago but that was a complete fluke. It’s doing the Ulster champions no favours either. The GAA have just got to bite the bullet and put Galway and Antrim into the underage provincial championships.I watched the Leinster final at the Willie Clancy festival in the first week of July ,Wexford have had zero action since and it’s a joke of a system.

Another issue which came out of the match, and one I’ve been concerned about all year, is the advantage rule. Two goals scored were pulled back after Johnny Ryan had already blown the whistle. Johnny played the advantage initially but the GAA are going to really have to clarify that rule for the refs because I don’t think it’s working in its current guise ( what if the advantage accrues in the 6th second )

Still, all that is for another day. Limerick didn’t need the floodlights on Saturday night because they lit the sky up with their pyrotechnics.

The weekend belonged to them.


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