Cathal McAllister’s final whistle at Pearse Stadium was greeted by an inordinate amount of fist-pumping, hugging, and back-slapping from the Limerick management, players, and board officials. No one held back. Emotions spilled over right across the field.
A warm embrace between manager John Kiely and Gearoid Hegarty captured best what this win meant to Limerick hurling.
On so many occasions in recent years, they had come within touching distance of promotion back to the top tier. Each spring ended the same; disappointment, their league status unchanged.
They came to Salthill in search of promotion. More pertinent, though, was the performance churned out to realise that goal. This was a display of which we have not seen from Limerick in a number of years. There was style, steel, and no little fight.
Ending a 15-game unbeaten run of the league, Leinster, and All-Ireland champions was a Limerick team which contained nine players who pocketed an All-Ireland U21 medal in either 2015 or 2017.
It was a team not exactly brimming with experience and yet they refused to accept their fate when almost losing sight of Galway in the opening
At half-time, the visitors trailed 1-15 to 1-7. They leaked 1-3 in the opening three minutes and were outscored 0-10 to 0-2 between the 10th and 28th minute.
They finished the half with just three players having found the target (Aaron Gillane’s 1-2 contribution came via the placed ball).
Indeed, no player clad in green was able to find the target from play between the ninth and 29th minute. Moreover, their wide count heading back down the tunnel stood at 11. Promotion couldn’t have been further away.
What materialised in the second period was a coming-of-age display. When this sentiment was put to manager John Kiely afterwards, he felt that description was over-
egging the pudding.
Either way, it was a remarkable turnaround. In front of a crowd of 9,728, Limerick won the second half by 1-11 to 0-4. They kept Galway to one point from play in the second period, to one score in the closing 15 minutes.
Yes, there was a fair breeze blowing in from the Atlantic, but it certainly wasn’t worth eight points.
Aaron Gillane (free) and David Reidy rose two white flags early upon the change of ends, yet there was still no indication of what was to follow.
A Jason Flynn free gave way to an unanswered 1-3 from Limerick. Gillane converted three dead-ball efforts and on 49 minutes, the deficit was whittled down to the minimum.
Seamus Flanagan and Reidy sent Kyle Hayes charging towards the Galway goal and in what was his first appearance of 2018, the 19-year-old’s tame effort dribbled past James Skehill. 1-16 to 2-12 read the scorebaord.
Points subsequently from Conor Cooney and Flynn (free) sandwiched Reidy’s second. The Tribesmen mustered little else between there and the finish.
Not even the sight of Joe Canning operating inside the whitewash for the first time in 2018 could rouse them into offering a stouter defence of their lead.
Seamus Flanagan, with his fifth of the day, levelled matters, 2-15 to 1-18, for the first time. The clock read 59 minutes.
A Canning ‘65 was cancelled out by sub Graeme Mulcahy, the hard-working Cian Lynch firing over the winner three minutes from time. This was a breakaway score, Limerick’s superior fitness most telling in the closing stages.
The hosts had long since lost their shape. They were disorganised in the second half and had no plan B when deliveries into their full-forward line began to come back out as quick as they were going in.
Cathal Mannion had 1-4 to his name come the 28th minute. He, along with several more, left no imprint on the second period. The westerners sorely missed Daithí Burke in the full-back line.
Collectively, they’re still finding their feet after a distracting winter. Nonetheless, the All-Ireland champions shouldn’t be letting slip such a lead in their own backyard.
Final word to Limerick. Win or lose against Clare this weekend, it doesn’t particularly matter. Their return ticket to Division 1A is locked away and that’s terribly important from a confidence point of view as they face into a cut-throat Munster campaign.
Further cause for optimism is the return of the Na Piarsaigh contingent in the next fortnight.
Upwardly mobile for Limerick. It’s taken them long enough.
A Gillane (1-7, 1-0 pen, 0-6 frees, 0-1 ‘65); S Flanagan (0-5); K Hayes (1-0); D Reidy (0-2); G Hegarty, P Ryan, G Mulcahy, C Lynch (0-1 each).
C Mannion (1-4); J Flynn (0-7, 0-6 frees); G Lally (0-1 sc), C Cooney, J Coen (0-2 each); J Canning (0-1 ‘65), D Burke (0-1 each).
N Quaid; S Finn, R McCarthy, R English; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; P Browne, C Lynch; G Hegarty, T Morrissey, D Reidy; A Gillane, S Flanagan, B Murphy.
K Hayes for Hegarty (19, inj); G Mulcahy for Flanagan (60); P Ryan for Reidy (63); C Ryan for Browne (66).
J Skehill; A Tuohy, P Mannion, S Bannon; G Lally, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, D Burke; S Moloney, C Mannion, C Whelan; N Burke, C Cooney, J Flynn.
J Hanbury for Tuohy (49); J Canning for Moloney (53); S Cooney for Lally (55); D Glennon for Flynn (58); B Concannon for N Burke (67);
C McAllister (Cork).