It was understandable that John Kiely not so much took offence, but bristled at the suggestion that Limerick showed signs of Kilkenny ruthlessness last Sunday. Kiely is keen for his group to establish their own identity, and they are doing just that — but the question was legitimate.
Tipperary have been on the end of a few drubbings at the hands of Kilkenny and how Limerick, despite the game being long won, continued to pepper Brian Hogan’s posts in the closing stages bore the hallmarks of Brian Cody’s team in its pomp.
Kiely dismissed the comparison as ‘nonsense’, but in Limerick supporters, there’s a belief their team rivals what Kilkenny had for the best part of 10 years. How else could you explain the turnout in the LIT Gaelic Grounds where their presence was so sizeable, Tipperary’s scores were greeted with relative silence?
Tipperary had completed the round-robin with a 100% record, averaging over 30 points a game, but Limerick were not deterred by that, or their two defeats. The queues for tickets in Centra and Super Valu stores reported across the county just days after Tipperary beat them illustrated their faith — and boy, were they repaid for it.
The unflappability that for so long characterised the Kilkenny supporter is now a trait of the Limerick follower. We know as much through marriage and spending a good bit of time in the county that it is not brashness or arrogance — simply assuredness.
In The Hurlers Bar in Castletroy on Saturday evening, SPIN South West’s Valerie Wheeler hosted a preview night where former Limerick midfielder James Ryan revealed Jason Forde was taking frees in the Gaelic Grounds during the week. As a former UL student, he would have had the connections to gain access.
Ryan told a story of how the groundsman, upon seeing Forde send over a free from close to the sideline quipped: “It’s easy to do it when nobody’s watching, isn’t it?”
Forde missed two frees on Sunday, but Ryan’s telling of the tale was more for the amusement of the crowd than anything else. And yet we found it incredible Forde was able to practise there. Only a week earlier, Éamonn Fitzmaurice revealed in this paper how Kerry had managed to train in Páirc Uí Chaoimh before the 2018 Munster final, much to the annoyance of the Cork camp. Fitzmaurice had deemed it as an edge for his team, but Ryan and Limerick’s attitude to Forde coming behind enemy lines was “away you go”.
We doubt Aaron Gillane would have been given the same access to Semple Stadium — perhaps rightly so — but the access granted to Forde said so much about the quiet confidence in Limerick.
In hindsight, the portents for their last final success came as early as the seventh minute when Pádraic Maher trailed Kyle Hayes, nine years his junior, as the Limerick forward broke free to score a point. Maher has been in excellent form this summer, but in that moment, all of the fears about Tipperary players’ age and lack of pace resurfaced.
However, this is a team that should still be in credit after topping the provincial table, although it doesn’t feel like it. That’s not just because of the nature of Sunday’s loss, but Tipperary’s inclination to damn their team after a poor result.
Liam Sheedy’s conviction that his men will bounce back is more believable than his claim “the people of Tipperary will stand behind this team”. It didn’t seem that way looking at the stands and terraces on Sunday and the only positive from the fall-out is it will be short-lived as attention turns to the quarter-final.
The record of Munster runners-ups there provides optimism. In the last 12 years, nine of the provincial finalists have won their subsequent quarter-final. Those three occasions when they were beaten — Clare 2017, Waterford ’12 and Clare ’08 — came at the hands of fellow Munster opposition.
Dublin or Laois provide steely opposition and should Dublin win, Tipperary may feel obliged to play in Croke Park as they hosted them in Thurles in 2014. Tipp aren’t broken — equilibrium will return to their defence with Cathal Barrett back — but changes in midfield and attack are required. Having one or two All-Ireland winning starters coming off the bench mightn’t be such a bad thing.
Last week, Sheedy admitted he was in the debt of the more senior players in the group — “If there was any group I owed it (returning to management) to, they were really good to me previously.” For 10 years, they’ve been reasonably good to the Tipperary people, too. Better than Limerick have been to their own. Some of their neighbours’ faith wouldn’t go astray.