As Limerick’s remarkable Munster final comeback gathered momentum early in the second half, Gearóid Hegarty suddenly started laughing at the chaos of it all.
Seamus Flanagan had just bundled his goal and the release of energy from the crowd gave Hegarty the sense of almost being lifted clean off his feet.
“Just to hear the roar of the crowd, I burst out laughing,” smiled the Limerick forward, a Bord Gáis Energy #HurlingToTheCore ambassador. “I was running back out into the half-forward line after he got that goal and the noise was just...I don’t know was it because there were no fans at games last year or what, and maybe you kind of forget what it’s like, but the noise was unbelievable. It felt like a full stadium there.”
The thing is, when they talk about the 2021 Munster final in five, 10 or 50 years’ time, they probably won’t say a whole pile about Flanagan’s goal. It’ll be all about the majesty of Kyle Hayes and how nobody could catch him before he planted the ball in the net for ‘that’ goal.
Hegarty reckons his Dad, former Limerick hurler Ger, may have been the happiest man afterwards.
“What a moment!” enthused Hegarty. “That will be remembered forever. I sat down and watched the game once since, and clips here and there, but Dad must have watched it 10 or 15 times since the Munster final. He can’t stop watching the goal.
“The other day actually he was on YouTube looking at Kyle’s goal again! What a moment for Kyle, for his family and what a moment for us as a team. It gave us a massive lift at the time and the noise coming in from the stands was incredible. It was just incredible for me to be there watching it happen.
“People still talk about Ciarán Carey’s point in 1996. It’s probably gone into the same kind of echelon of sporting moments in Limerick hurling.”
For Hegarty, this really feels like hurling again, like living. Summer days, noisy crowds, Championship fever.
“To be able to go training in the league up to a Munster final in 25 degrees heat and to be able to go home before it and to give your mother and father and brothers and sisters a ticket, to see the joy in their faces and my uncle as well, my uncle Joe, who hasn’t been to a game since the All-Ireland semi-final in 2019, it’s just unbelievable.
“After the Munster final, after what we did, there was a massive buzz and getting back into training then over the last couple of weeks, preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final, preparing for another trip to Croke Park, I just phrase it as what a great time to be a Limerick hurling player.
“I grew up as a young fella and Limerick were challenging. I was only born in ‘94, I was too young in ‘96 but I remember in 2007 (Limerick reaching the All-Ireland final) and I went to every single game.
“In 2013 and 2014, they were very competitive but there was plenty of years when Limerick were nowhere near the top table of hurling in terms of challenging for Munster titles, challenging for All-Ireland titles, getting to Croke Park. So these are great times to be a Limerick hurling fan.”
It probably didn’t feel so good to be a Limerick supporter in the first half of the Munster final though, with Tipperary turning the screw.
“We were killing ourselves with our own use of possession,” said Hegarty. “We just did not use the ball well in the first half and we just got punished to the nth degree. Tipperary, they were awesome in the first half. They were absolutely incredible.
“Every single mistake we made seemed to end up in a score of some sort for them but the main thing was nobody panicked at half-time.
“Yes, there were a few strong words said in terms of pointing out that our performance needed to be upped drastically but we, overall, just needed to use the ball a lot better when we had it and obviously we did and we got on top in the third quarter, we got back into the game and we pushed on then in the fourth quarter and held on in the end.
“There was a lot of satisfaction in the dressing-room afterwards but there was a lot of relief as well because that first-half performance was nowhere near good enough.
“In terms of the standards we hold, we weren’t happy at half-time. But we knew that and nobody panicked, we realised we had plenty of time left and we were able to go out and correct it in the second half.”