Limerick hurling eyes another title - and another production line of talent

Irrespective of whether they win or lose at Semple Stadium, Limerick will do very, very well to mine as many seniors from the current U20 class as they did the all-conquering groups of 2015 and 2017.
Limerick hurling eyes another title - and another production line of talent

Brian O'Meara, right, and Donnacha O'Dalaigh of Limerick celebrates after their side's victory in the oneills.com Munster GAA Hurling U20 Championship Final match between Limerick and Tipperary at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Irrespective of whether they win or lose at Semple Stadium, Limerick will do very, very well to mine as many seniors from the current U20 class as they did the all-conquering groups of 2015 and 2017.

Limerick is a county that needs no education on the false dawns that an U21 All-Ireland can raise, or three-in-a-row for that matter, but where there was no transfer of success in the years after the 2000, 01 and 02 wins, well-travelled was the pathway from underage to senior following the wins of five and seven years ago.

From the 2015 group that hammered Wexford in a sensational final showing, 10 of the 20 players who featured in that All-Ireland decider have seen game-time during this year’s Munster championship. It is a figure that would have stretched to 11 but for Peter Casey’s injury-enforced absence.

2015 winners Sean Finn, Tom Morrissey, Barry Nash, Cian Lynch, and Casey were still knocking around the U21 ranks two years later when Limerick added another national U21 title, the graduates from this particular class including Kyle Hayes, Robbie Hanley, Aaron Gillane, Conor Boylan, and Oisin O’Reilly.

As we said at the outset, the Treaty would do incredibly well to get anywhere near this number of players successfully stepping up to John Kiely’s senior panel in the seasons ahead.

Three current U20s have already made the leap, two of whom - Colin Coughlan and Adam English - will be in action in Thurles on account of having not yet played senior championship for their county. 

The other - Cathal O’Neill - is now an inducted member of Kiely’s forward unit, although it can’t be forgotten the contribution he made at U20 level last month before the step up.

Had O’Neill not struck an injury-time 1-1 at the end of Limerick’s Munster opener against Clare to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat, it is questionable if the Treaty youngsters would have made it out of their group, never mind take Munster honours and contest for further silverware this weekend.

While obviously sorry to lose him to the senior set-up, Limerick centre-forward Aidan O’Connor said O’Neill’s absence has forced others to step up. No longer have they the option of leaning on the Crecora/Manister talent.

“What we scored the first day against Clare - 3-7 - wasn't good enough. Cathal got 2-3, he dragged us through that game. The next day against Cork, we scored so much more (1-25). It was a real squad effort. All through underage, we were nearly always relying on Cathal to do the scoring because he was the big name. Now that he is gone, everyone has to take on responsibility,” O’Connor explained.

The centre-forward, having contributed 0-30 across the county’s four-game run to stand as Limerick’s top-scorer, has put himself firmly in the shop window for the call each member of Diarmuid Mullins’ team is hoping will come their way down the line.

“Sure, everyone that is playing here with the U20s, their goal is to play with the seniors,” O'Connor continued. “The lads coming back in [from senior], the work-rate they show gives us great momentum and makes us want to go on and be a senior player, as well.” 

And ultimately it is the number of players who follow in the footsteps of O’Neill, Coughlan, and English, not Sunday's result, that will determine whether this U20 campaign was a success.

“There are two aspects to it,” said manager Mullins, who oversaw this group as minors when they came up short to Sunday’s opponents in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final final, “there is the development of players going forward for Limerick and we hope there are five or six that can push on to senior level, but you'd also like that they have that winning mentality, and we have got that through the four games this year and also getting to the final.” 

An All-Ireland crown, says captain Jimmy Quilty, would be the ideal way to finish the journey this group have been on together since first making each other's company at U14 development squad level.

“There are a lot of lads who have developed hugely from the academy from smaller clubs, I would probably be one, who wouldn't have been playing top-tier Division 1 all the way up. The academy has been a huge boost, for sure,” said Quilty.

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