Even if Cork had Luke Meade and Darragh Fitzgibbon I still would have felt that Limerick were more balanced. And they were, writes Anthony Daly.
There was a real buzz in the Gaelic Grounds last night but it was a different kind of vibe than normal, a tense and anxious kind of buzz. The U-21 championship, especially the Munster championship, has always been associated with open, free-flowing, swashbuckling hurling but this match mirrored the mood within the ground — laced with anxiety and tense hurling.
Part of that was down to how both teams set up. The strong breeze blowing down the field was another factor but the referee also contributed to the frustration. He seemed hard on Cork at times but Limerick had cause for grievance too John Myler set up his team very deep into the storm but probably took too long to change it when he had the elements. It worked against Waterford and it almost worked last night. They were within touching distance at half-time having played against the breeze but I still felt that Limerick would play better into the elements because it would create more space, which is what happened.
I also didn’t think that Cork were in as good a position as so many people around me seemed to think. Even if Cork had Luke Meade and Darragh Fitzgibbon I still would have felt that Limerick were more balanced. And they were.
Although they were missing Meade and Fitzgibbon, Cork still had their chests out on the field and in the stands from the first minute. You could sense the momentum and confidence within Cork hurling but Cork needed those two senior players to really bridge the gap that, in my mind, existed between the teams. The Cork people might say that there was only two points in it at the end but that was nearly more an indictment of Limerick not putting Cork away than Cork being as close to Limerick as the scoreline suggested.
Most of Limerick’s big guns fired but Cork’s didn’t. Mark Coleman was good in fairness but Shane Kingston struggled to have any real impact on the match, with Sean Finn doing a great job on Kingston in the second half. It never happened for Declan Dalton either after his tour-de-force against Waterford. Things went wrong for him all evening. He struggled to win possession no matter where he was on the field. Dalton got a silly yellow card too, which was even more frustrating because he had been fouled for a free and then the ball was thrown in for Dalton’s retaliation on Colin Ryan.
I thought Ryan was the best player on the field. TG4 gave Cian Lynch man-of-the-match, who was excellent in the second half when Limerick needed someone to win and hold possession, but I thought Ryan led the charge all evening. Kyle Hayes was really influential too. When that last ball dropped in, it was fitting that Hayes won it and tore off up the field as the ref blew the final whistle.
Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty to win, which is what Limerick did last night. Yet that’s a sign of maturity too and there is loads of experience in this Limerick squad. Anything up to ten of them could be playing senior hurling next year, which you couldn’t say about Cork.Although not involved at all , From working in the Limerick underage Academy, you’d get a piece of satisfaction seeing the victory.Eleven of the panel of 26 are off the last two minor teams I was involved with in 2015 and 2016. Most of the rest of the group have All-Ireland U-21 medals from 2015 so this is a squad with real potential.
There are good guys involved with the management too, lads I worked with closely on those minors teams over the last two years; Pat Donnelly is a top manager,along with Brian Foley and Mikey Kiely. Mossy O’Brien, who played under me in Dublin, has also returned home and is part of the backroom too. Mossy is a great fella. He was a stalwart on those Limerick U-21 teams which won three All-Irelands in-a-row between 2000-02 (Mossy was on two of those teams) but Limerick have now got to try and convert their recent success at U-21 into senior success this time around.
I keep telling the people in the county that they have to be patient. I know they are waiting since 1973 for an All-Ireland senior title but they are patiently putting the right building blocks in place. It may still take a while but Limerick will eventually get there if they keep growing and developing these young players the way the county are.
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