I’m so pleased for Limerick.
Nothing in the slightest against Galway, who were tremendous champions. They’ll know they didn’t get close to anything like their best yesterday, but Galway, even though misfiring for the most part, still had that free to draw it right at the end.
We’ve had drama after drama in this summer’s hurling, but a free from way out to draw an All-Ireland final in the 10th minute of extra time… Who could script it? Who could even think of it?
Give Galway credit. To get back into that position took some guts. It’s hard to believe they were eight points down with two minutes to go. They definitely brought the courage of champions, but came up a bit short in other areas.
Apart from a decent spell around the 10th to the 16th-minute mark, Galway never took off. Joseph Cooney threw over a nice point after Gearóid McInerney fetched a puckout in great style, but it was the only time they led all day.
Up in the commentary box, I was wondering whether Galway might kick on in the second quarter after their sluggish start, but then Limerick stole in for a crucial goal in the 17th-minute.
I felt their belief really grew after that. The goal helped to offset bad wides on their part, and they suddenly had something else to focus on.
Graeme Mulcahy just persisted and persisted, after Kyle Hayes sent over a lovely cross. It wasn’t what you’d call a pretty goal, and James Skehill will feel he maybe could have killed the ball, but persistence is a great yoke. Once Graeme forced the ball into the net, Limerick always looked to have a bit extra.
A four-point half-time lead did not flatter them one bit.
Graeme is from Kilmallock, same as Mossie Dowling, one of the Limerick team that beat Kilkenny in the 1973 All Ireland final, so he’ll be well aware of Mossie’s ‘pushover try’ goal and its significance those 45 years ago. That one wasn’t too pretty either, but they all raise the green flag, and Graeme has found the form of his life. He scored 1-2, a nice haul, but he contributed far more again with his energy and his endeavour.
How far away is Graeme from being hurler of the year?
We thought beforehand that the Galway tackling might be too much for Limerick. If anything, the opposite turned out to be the case.
Pádraic Mannion has been surging out all summer from wing-back, setting up Galway attacks and scoring the odd point himself. Mannion was their main man and Limerick had their homework done.
They met Mannion with bodies nearly every time he looked to get out. Stopping him in his tracks also took pressure off the Limerick defence. Jonathan Glynn was nothing like as influential in around the square as on other days, because the ball was far less in there.
You’d also wonder about what seemed to be a zonal marking system in defence on Galway’s part. Their backs seemed to be handing on different lads to another marker in another area.
Whatever the idea, it didn’t work. Limerick got players out into space on the wings, and their backs were able to pick them out with balls up the line. Tom Morrissey and Séamus Flanagan did a lot of damage in this respect.
Séamus Flanagan was brilliant coming onto ball. He gave Dáithí Burke the most difficult afternoon he has experienced yet at full back.
However, us pundits are here to be honest too and you’d have to say it was a weird game.
There was a fair amount of jittery nervy stuff, especially in the second half. I thought Galway would come flying out of the blocks in the second half. My sense was that they could only improve, but it was the other way round. Limerick came back out buzzing and Tom Morrissey’s goal in the 54th minute gave them a nine-point lead they fully deserved. They were hurling Galway out of it all over the field.
What happened then? I’m still not sure. Sometimes the finishing line can come up too quickly. Forty-five years is a long time to be waiting… I really don’t know how Limerick went from kings of the castle, after their second and third goals, to grinding out a win in added time. John Mullane was sitting behind me in the commentary box.
When Joe Canning’s blaster of a 20-metre free hit the net, John shouted: “The Dooleys!”
GOAL! What a finish by Joe Canning! pic.twitter.com/Ai4VSDzlZp— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 19, 2018
You could understand the response. We were in the fifth minute of added time and now Galway were only two points behind.
No-one has ever been able to forget what happened in 1994. Limerick looked home and hosed with a five-point lead, five minutes to go. They ended up losing by six points, after Offaly scored 2-5 on the spin.
Until yesterday, Limerick hadn’t recovered from that experience. To have got any result but a win was unthinkable. If Joe Canning’s free had travelled over for a draw, it would have crushed Limerick every bit as much as 1994. Maybe even more.
Joe’s effort fell short and Limerick got the ball out of defence. James Owens blew his whistle for the last time.
Pandemonium, absolute pandemonium.
One of the supreme moments in Croke Park.
I’m so pleased for John Kiely, who has turned out to be an inspired choice as Limerick manager. I knew of him when we were both hurling back in the 1990s, but he was a back, same as myself, and off down the other end of the field.
I think the first time I spoke to John properly was on New Year’s Eve in 2014. I was at the Galbally Coursing and had a drink afterwards in the pub owned by John’s family.
He impressed me that night. He is a gent, but a steely gent. He is as sound a man as you could meet, but he has a bit of devilment in him, as well. If you’re to go anywhere as an inter-county manager, you need that bit of unpredictability to your make up.
This All-Ireland day threw so many wonderful images. The two Morrissey brothers lifting the cup together.
They have been cornerstones of this campaign. Everyone knew about Tom, but Dan’s emergence as a top-class wing back was an important element that not too many foresaw.
The two Casey brothers lifting the cup together. People were saying Mike is not one of nature’s full-backs. Maybe so, but until he got injured he did some job on Jonathan Glynn and whoever else arrived in to him.
And what a sub to have in Peter… A class act. He was nearly my favourite among all the young hurlers I came across in Limerick.
Peter is only getting started in his career. The touch and the balance needed to be a top notch forward are all there.
I was looking down at Shane Dowling, after the cup presentation, soaking it all up on the pitch. You’d have to be happy for him. Shane has experienced plenty of downs as well as great ups with Na Piarsaigh.
When you’re not starting, and maybe think you should be starting, the easy thing to do as a player is sulk. Shane came on against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final and did really well.
Would he get his start now?
The decision went the other way, but Shane’s body language has been perfect all through. Dealing with this kind of issue is one of the trickiest ones any manager faces. So it’s another tribute to John Kiely’s skills that he produced such effective input from his subs.
Na Piarsaigh will be proud as a club to see three of their men coming in to get Limerick over the line. There will be some competition for starting places in 2019.
Then you had the backroom. It is a serious set up. Paul Kinnerk, as coach, and Joe O’Connor, as trainer, were there when Clare won the All-Ireland in 2013. Those men were never going to move into a camp where anything less than lifting Liam MacCarthy was the target.
Again, John’s ability to get such men aboard spoke volumes. They believed in his potential every bit as much he believed in their track record. Paul is a Limerick man and another senior title with his native county must be the ultimate in a bulging CV.
Good luck to him. He gave Clare superb service.
JP McManus’s generosity has driven crucial work behind the scenes. He might well be the happiest he has ever been in his life.
There are so many other people I could mention, especially because I now know Limerick GAA far better than I did four years. Congratulations to all of them. It is Limerick’s day and Limerick’s year. Who could begrudge them after so long?
They have a right team and won’t be going anywhere for a long time once they keep their heads. Under John’s management, I don’t think anything else will even be an option. He will know exactly these lads’ potential.
There are more big days in this group of hurlers. In fact, there are other talented young lads still to come into the frame. Obviously, I couldn’t but be aware of the depth, having been hurling director for the Limerick Academy between 2015 and 2017. Taking on the job wasn’t something I was sure of, but it ended up a great experience and I learned so much personally.
If I’m definitely thinking of lads like Eoghan McNamara and Brian Ryan, there are other candidates as well. I was privileged enough to be on the sideline with the county’s minors in the 2015 All-Ireland final. We didn’t win, but maybe seeds were sowed.
Look at Kyle Hayes now, a total leader and one of the minors so disappointed that day. Kyle’s early point, Limerick’s first of the day, was an important settler.
Losing a minor All-Ireland final can be the push a talented youngster needs. Success can come too early for some lads. I’d say U21 might be a better grade in that regard, because the players involved are more mature. For sure, Limerick’s U21 All-Ireland wins in 2015 and 2017 have trained on in the most powerful way possible.
I’m going on as if the main focus is what happens next year. Not at all… The scenes yesterday will be plenty for a long time.
I met Maurice O’Brien afterwards, a proud Garryspillane clubman, same as John Kiely. Mossie is someone who gave his adopted county serious service when I was Dublin manager. He was nearly in tears when I ran into him outside the stadium. You can understand the emotion, when you’ve been down so long, when you’ve had disappointment after disappointment over the years. We felt it in Clare in 1995, obviously. It was some release.
Now Limerick are on the same wave.
Despite the intense rivalry between the two neighbours, all Clare people can relate hugely to what Limerick people are feeling now. Hurling is massive in Limerick, and this win should hopefully cement the whole thing. Actually, after the summer we’ve just had, hurling is massive, full stop. Everyone needs to build on three months of play we can’t presume will happen again any time soon.
It mightn’t have been the greatest standard of final ever. There were a lot of errors and a total of 36 wides speaks for itself. So what? All Limerick cared about was getting a result.
They got there. The unlimited heartbreak is over.
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