Galway 0-26 Limerick 1-17
Limerick’s aura has been ever so slightly dimmed.
At Salthill, a couple of key stats that had been rightly and regularly used to hold up this Limerick team as the game’s current standard-bearers went tumbling.
Chief among them was the county’s 14-game unbeaten run, with Limerick not having lost a competitive fixture since the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny on July 27, 2019.
But not alone did Sunday represent Limerick’s first defeat in 659 days, it was also their first league reverse since February of 2019 and the county’s biggest league defeat since the 10-point semi-final drubbing at the hands of Galway in April of 2017.
Limerick were not at full strength here, but they did finish with 10 of the team that started last year’s All-Ireland final so neither can it be said John Kiely went into battle with an experimental side.
Where there was unfamiliarity with Limerick was the total absence of fluency to their hurling.
The reigning League and All-Ireland champions were unable to build phases of play in the middle third, unable to find the target as often as they would have liked with their trademark belters from distance.
Contributory factors to the above include a rare off-colour display from Cian Lynch, Limerick’s inability to stamp their authority in the middle of the field, and Galway’s overall dominance in defence.
The latter was best summed up by the swarming of David Reidy by the Mannion brothers and David Burke midway through the opening half, referee James Owens eventually penalising an isolated Reidy for overcarrying. Just four first-half scores from play was so untypical of Limerick.
Unlike their approach in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, Galway opted against a sweeper on this occasion. Limerick, having no extra body at the other end of the field, found it more cumbersome work to weave a path — and possession — out of defence. This absolutely impacted on the quality of ball being fed to green shirts further forward.
The visitors led only once — that in the opening two minutes — and trailed their opponents from the 15th minute on. Behind by three at the break (0-14 to 1-8), two in a row at the start of the second half did bring Limerick within the minimum, but it was to be the last time they stood this close to their hosts.
“None of us enjoy the taste of defeat and yes, it is quite some time since we have had to take it on the chin. It doesn’t taste very good,” said John Kiely afterward.
“We weren’t the best team here, Galway were the better team. That was clear throughout.”
Tied at 0-3 apiece approaching the end of the first quarter, Galway made their first move of note when striking seven of the game’s next nine points. Providers here included the unerring Evan Niland (three frees), the lively Conor Whelan (two), Ja Mannion, and David Burke, The latter would bow out with a hamstring injury in first-half stoppages.
Trailing by 0-10 to 0-5, Seamus Flanagan’s 27th-minute goal couldn’t have been more timely. That said, Limerick failed to use this green flag platform to further stymie Galway’s momentum, with three in a row from Niland (two frees) and Burke moving Galway back out to five in front on 34 minutes.
Four points either side of half-time amounted to Limerick’s most productive spell, leaving the scoreboard finely balanced at 0-14 to 1-10 on 37 minutes. But as was the case throughout, Galway had an answer and another gear.
A fine Cathal Mannion point was followed by one of the many monstrous frees converted by Niland — he hit 14 in total — and even though only two separated the sides at the second water break, the Tribesmen would outscore their opponents 0-7 to 0-3 in the final quarter.
Getting in on the act with a converted free and a point from play, the latter seeing him raise his hand in delight, was Joe Canning.
“We weren’t out to put a dent in Limerick at all. We were out to perform,” said winning manager Shane O’Neill.
“Some of the movement and striking of the forwards was excellent and I thought the backs were really tight and defended aggressively, which was great.”
Counties are less than a month reconvened so neither Limerick nor Galway should read too much into this result. Still, it will be telling to see how the champions respond to a rare defeat and whether Galway can go three from three next Saturday against Tipp.
Scorers for Galway: E Niland (0-14, 0-14 frees); C Whelan (0-3); J Canning (0-2, 0-1 free), D Burke, C Mannion (0-2 each); B Concannon, J Mannion, N Burke (0-1 each).
Scorers for Limerick: D Reidy (0-8, 0-7 frees); A Gillane (0-4, 0-2 frees); S Flanagan (1-0); G Hegarty, P Casey (0-2 each); D Byrnes (0-1 free).
Galway: E Murphy; S Loftus, G McInerney, J Fitzpatrick; A Tuohey, P Mannion, F Burke; D Burke, C Mannion; J Cooney, E Niland, B Concannon; J Mannion, N Burke, C Whelan.
Subs: J Coen for D Burke (35 +3, inj); D Morrissey for Loftus (47); J Canning for J Cooney, S Cooney for Tuphey (both 49); J Flynn for J Mannion (55).
Limerick: N Quaid; A Costello, D Morrissey, R English; D Byrnes, K Hayes, B Nash; W O’Donoghue, B O’Grady; G Hegarty, C Lynch, D Reidy; C O’Neill, S Flanagan, P Casey.
Subs: D O’Donovan for O’Grady, A Gillane for O’Neill (both HT); B Ryan for English (55); A Breen for Casey (60); T Morrissey for Reidy (63).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).