The words of Davy Fitzgerald to his opposite number after Ryan questioned the legality of Clare’s tacking as they handed Limerick a Munster Senior League defeat in January 2014. Ryan would have reason to believe his point was proven in last year’s Munster opener when Shane Dowling pointed 10 frees as Clare counted the cost of falling foul with referee Colm Lyons. But Fitzgerald’s mention of league seems more appropriate to recall considering what’s on the line for both today.
On an already historic week for Limerick hurling with their inaugural All-Ireland Club SHC, can the county finally re-join the big boys after six years in the wilderness? There’s is a tale of self-harm, bad luck and injustice.
But for the strike, Limerick mightn’t have found themselves demoted in the first place. Justin McCarthy’s third-stringers lost all seven of their Division 1 matches, conceding 17-146, their worst defeats against Tipperary (2-24 to 0-8) and Dublin (6-30 to 2-11). The likes of Graeme Mulcahy and Nicky Quaid, albeit in an outfield role, emerged that spring but otherwise it was a campaign to forget and one that would have a lasting impression anyone could have foreseen.
McCarthy’s successor Donal O’Grady had his full complement to chose from as Limerick topped Division 2, winning all seven of their round games before they saw off Clare in the promotion final in Ennis. However, they were to lose out on a return to the top flight because of a league restructure. Limerick were understandably livid: “It’s a bad decision as far as Limerick hurling is concerned,” said then county chairman Liam Lenihan. “We earned the right to be in Division 1 and it’s in Division 1 where we should be.”
Despite being soundly beaten by Clare in the first round and finishing second to them, all was going swimmingly for John Allen’s side in the promotion final in the Gaelic Grounds after 45 minutes at which stage they built an eight-point lead. But Limerick managed just two points for the remainder as Clare staged a remarkable comeback to snatch victory.
Another promotion final, another Limerick defeat and one they could have no excuse for. It later transpired Dublin had unknowingly fielded an illegitimate player in Paul Ryan. The forward, who scored 1-8, was sent off for a straight red card foul in the counties’ round game and served a one-match ban. However, he should have been handed a four-week ban as the GAA’s Central Appeals Committee deemed Central Council were wrong to extend the trial basis of match bans into 2013. Limerick chairman Oliver Man said: “As the timeframe for an objection has long passed, Limerick are not considering going down that road. The CCCC (Central Competitions Control Committee) can, however, of its own accord investigate the composition of any team taking part in a competition under its control. For the sake of everybody, we hope they clarify this particular situation as soon as possible.” Limerick’s plea, however, fell on deaf ears.
Things began promisingly for Limerick when they drew with Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn but in stumbling to a draw with Offaly in Tullamore they finished a point behind their Munster neighbours thus missing out on the jump to Division 1A. A subsequent poor performance in a league quarter-final against Galway was deemed unacceptable by the county board who claimed joint-managers O’Grady and Ryan had apologised to them. That was refuted by the pair and it compelled O’Grady to resign.
Once more, Limerick opened their campaign with a draw, this time at home to Waterford. But again it was Offaly who upset them with a surprise win in the Gaelic Grounds. The failure to gain promotion was a particular sore point for county board officials afterwards who agreed qualifying for Division 1A was a priority this season. As for the 12-point quarter-final loss to Dublin? Dowling recently summed it up: “We got to a quarter-final against Dublin and we made a show of ourselves in Croke Park.”