It was three-quarters of an hour on from the presentation of the James Nowlan Cup to Tom Morrissey when Pat Donnelly addressed his players underneath the Kinane Stand. County board chairman Oliver Mann and secretary Mike O’Riordan also offered a few congratulatory words. The Limerick players, as you can imagine, were in fairly buoyant form, so how much attention was being paid is questionable.
The one man they’d have done well to listen to was selector Maurice O’Brien. He’d been where they are now, stood in their boots. Eight players picked up their second U21 medal on Saturday, just as O’Brien had done in 2002. He made his senior championship debut the following year, but, like so many of his U21 team-mates, faded from the scene in subsequent years.
Fair enough, 13 of the 20 players to see game-time on the afternoon of the 2007 All-Ireland final had at least one U21 medal in their pocket so it isn’t as if that entire generation was lost. 2007, though, stands very much in isolation. Between 2003 and ’10, on only one other occasion, 2009, did Limerick advance beyond the quarter-finals.
The Treaty County cannot afford for history to repeat itself.
From Saturday’s team, Seán Finn, Kyle Hayes, Aaron Gillane, Cian Lynch, Peter Casey, Tom Morrissey and Barry Nash have already worn the green shirt at senior level. It won’t be long before Ronan Lynch, Colin Ryan and Robbie Hanley are handed their championship debuts.
From the 2015 U21 winning side, Richie English, Mike Casey, Diarmuid Byrnes, Gearoid Hegarty, Darragh O’Donovan and David Dempsey have made the step-up. Thus far, the county’s senior standing hasn’t improved one step. It could well be the same story in 2018. And the year after that.
Irrespective, these players must be persisted with. They are Limerick’s future. The least they deserve is a bit of time and patience to not alone find their feet at senior level, but to establish themselves at the top table.
“We have a talented group,” said captain Tom Morrissey. “There was success at schools level. Even winning the All-Ireland U16 title [in 2012] kick-started us for minor. Brian Ryan, minor manager in 2013 and ’14, instilled a winning mentality in this group. It just doesn’t seem to have left the players. We keep carrying it into every game. It is nearly a culture in the team at this stage.
“We just need to bring that mentality up to senior and hopefully, get results with it.”
“Senior is another step up, but you have to be successful underage. This win will definitely give lads confidence going forward. You don’t want to talk too far ahead but definitely, there is talent in the county, it is up to us to step up, take it on and hopefully, get success at senior.
“Our path to the final shows this team doesn’t fear anyone. At the end of the day, we go out, we believe always we are better than our opponents and we always go out and beat them; that has been our philosophy.”
They certainly didn’t show much respect for the black and amber jersey. Morrissey was instructed to play with the elements if he won the toss. He did and the favourites wasted little time in pinning Kilkenny into a corner.
Aaron Gillane (0-4, two frees), Barry Nash, Peter Casey and Ronan Lynch (free) all marked the score sheet as Donnelly’s troops stormed 0-7 to 0-1 clear. Shane Walsh’s point inside 22 seconds was to prove Kilkenny’s sole score during the first 18 minutes. They were held to four scores in the first 43 minutes and managed just four points from play over the hour.
The Treaty youngsters, despite facing the wind, continued to push the tempo early in the second-half. Undeterred by three successive wides, Aaron Gillane moved them 0-12 to 0-4 clear following a crowd-lifting block by Robbie Hanley on Luke Scanlon.
Kilkenny sub Alan Murphy threw over five placed-ball efforts to reduce the margin to 0-15 to 0-11 with five minutes remaining. The winners, though, refused to wobble.
Concluded Morrissey: “We squeezed the absolute life out of them at the beginning of the second-half. It paid off in the end. Going forward to senior, we didn’t want to have lost to Kilkenny in minor and U21 finals. This is a special feeling.”
A Gillane (0-7, 0-2 frees); R Lynch (3 frees), P Casey (0-3 each); C Lynch, B Nash, O O’Reilly, C Boylan (0-1 each).
A Murphy (0-5, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ’65); S Walsh (0-3, 0-2 frees); J Donnelly, B Ryan, L Blanchfield (0-1 each).
E McNamara (Doon); S Finn (Bruff), D Fanning (Pallasgreen), D Joy (Kilmallock); R Lynch (Na Piarsaigh), K Hayes (Kildimo/Pallaskenry), T Grimes (Na Piarsaigh); C Ryan (Pallasgreen), R Hanley (Kilmallock); T Morrissey (Ahane), B Nash (South Liberties), C Lynch (Patrickswell); B Murphy (Doon), A Gillane (Patrickswell), P Casey (Na Piarsaigh).
C Boylan (Na Piarsaigh) for C Lynch (39, inj); A La Touche Cosgrave (Monaleen) for Morrissey (47); O O’Reilly (Kilmallock) for Murphy (54); L Lyons (Monaleen) for Nash (62).
D Brennan (St Lachtain’s); M Cody (Dunnamaggin), C Delaney (Erin’s Own), N McMahon (Erin’s Own); H Lawlor (O’Loughlin Gaels), J Cleere (Bennettsbridge), T Walsh (Tullaroan); L Scanlon (James Stephens), B Ryan (Graigue Ballycallan); L Blanchfield (Bennettsbridge), S Morrissey (Bennettsbridge), R Leahy (Rower Inistioge); S Walsh (Tullaroan), J Donnelly (Thomastown), J Walsh (Mullinavat).
A Murphy (Glenmore) for Morrissey (25); P Lyng (Rower Inistioge) for J Walsh (HT); E Kenny (Slieverue) for S Walsh (40); M Keoghan (Tullaroan) for Ryan (41); D Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks) for Leahy (44).
P O’Dwyer (Carlow)