This date 10 years ago, Limerick’s lambs were mauled by Cork. Thirteen points was the difference in Páirc Uí Chaoimh as the visitors, so wet behind the ears, were brushed aside with ease.
There was some sympathy from the victors but at least when Cork had their three strikes they had the good sense to make peace, no matter how uneasy it was, before the Championship started.
Even if the scars from the battles are still being felt in Cork, the immediate fall-out in Limerick was crushing. It was bad enough that Tipperary crucified them by 24 points in an All-Ireland semi-final the previous August but then came the purge, the strike and relegation. Paul Browne remembers the 31-point Division 1 defeat to Dublin in Parnell Park, which confirmed their relegation, as one of his darkest days wearing the green and white. It would take the county nine years before they returned to the top flight.
From the 18 players that saw action in the 2009 Munster semi-final replay, only two - Browne, David Breen and Graeme Mulcahy - were involved against Cork 12 months later. Six in total chose to stay on. In solidarity with the dozen players axed by Justin McCarthy which included Stephen Lucey, Niall Moran and Andrew O’Shaughnessy, 11 team-mates such as Brian Geary, Seamus Hickey and Damien Reale opted not to make themselves available.
They found it unacceptable that their colleagues' characters had been tarnished during that winter of discontent. Although there were attempts by McCarthy to reconcile differences in March 2010, the damage had already been done and nobody returned.
So it was that a team green in appearance and nature represented Limerick in the Championship. O’Shaughnessy didn’t watch the Cork game but caught the post-match coverage and couldn’t believe what he saw. “Brian O’Sullivan, a club-mate of mine, was captain for the day and he was left alone to do an interview of his own, a young fella.
It was unfair on him, to be honest, to put him out in the spotlight like that and make him answer for what had happened when he was trying to make his mark on the team. He shouldn’t have been put in that situation.
The split was never felt in Kilmallock, O’Shaughnessy recalls. On one side, there was him and Gavin O’Mahony who omitted himself in support of O'Shaughnessy et al. On the other, there was Mulcahy and O’Sullivan but there were no recriminations. “The likes of Brian and Graeme played that year and you couldn’t begrudge them at all. They were trying to make the team. If you held anything them, that was more a reflection of you and your character than the people who were actually playing.”
Up the road in Bruff, Browne never felt a blackleg for staying put. He and Mulcahy were teenagers when McCarthy brought them into the panel in 2009. All they wanted to do was play. “I was only a young fella, only in the door. I just didn’t feel comfortable taking a stance like that so I tried to keep my head down, concentrate on my hurling and stay out of it as much as possible. In hindsight, if everyone had gone on strike I don’t know if it would have changed things.
“I never got a call from any of the older players saying, ‘Listen, you need to stop hurling’. There was no pressure from the county board to stay either. The pressure was coming from the general public. There was a lot of messy stuff and sly comments and fellas just sticking their nose in and passing comments about the team after games or on the street. You could hear things being said from the stands during league games.
“It was a difficult time to be hurling for Limerick. Some fellas went and came back and it was as difficult for those who went as it was for those who stayed. It didn’t matter what side you were on.”
In his Laochra Gael aired last year, O’Shaughnessy spoke of how he and others had made suggestions to McCarthy in terms of preparing the team, how in 2009 he had felt they were “doing hurling drills you’d do with a bad U12 team”.
Those proposals to McCarthy, he felt, may have contributed to he and 11 others being dropped from the panel but he insisted all the responsibility for the rinsing Tipperary gave them wasn’t being thrown at McCarthy’s feet.
Browne will always be grateful to the Cork native for giving him his senior championship debut but he acknowledges the game at the time was evolving quickly. “Hurling-wise, you’d be going very well. The game was starting to change and tactics were coming into it more and more. But as regards hurling he was incredible. His love for the game was one thing that always shone through. He was always keen for us to hurl away as naturally as we could.”
As much as it was a bloodletting that crept into sabotage territory, some good did emerge from the sorry mess. The 2009 defeat to Tipperary inspired then 37-year-old John Kiely to get involved in management. As well as giving Browne and Mulcahy their first senior starts, McCarthy also handed Nickie Quaid his SHC debut albeit as a half-back against Cork 10 years ago.
Was it necessary? Browne doesn’t think so but discipline remained key when Donal O’Grady the following season as the overall managerial approach became more professional. When Limerick bridged a 17-year gap to claim a Munster SHC title in 2013, 2010 was for the most part consigned to the past.
Beating Tipperary in 2013 and 2014 were milestones that all was coming right again, Browne recalls. “Tipp beat us in 2012 but it wasn’t by much and 2013 and ‘14 were good years for us against them. We made a bollocks of the two (All-Ireland) semi-finals those year - we should have beaten Clare in 2013 and against Kilkenny a year later we were hurling out of our skins but just couldn’t see it out.
“When we won Munster, there wasn’t much talk about 2010 again. You regret how it worked out for lads who were retired by it and lads like my club-mate Dean Madden who came in for 2010. It’s a year I’ve tried to forget.”