It will all be part of a wider discussion that will inflate, expand and explode over the next two weeks, but a core narrative of that story began forming as soon as the final whistle blew in Croke Park yesterday.
Limerick are driving towards history but Brian Cody and his team will be doing everything to stop it in its tracks for more than just trying to win this All-Ireland. Cody’s team of the 2000s are rightly regarded as the greatest ever, especially the side which came close to winning five in-a-row but which bagged six All-Irelands in seven seasons.
Limerick still have a bit to go to get up to that level but they’re getting close. Winning a third-in-a-row and a fourth All-Ireland in five seasons would put them in that conversation as one of hurling’s greatest sides. Cody never needs a scintilla of motivation to win the Liam MacCarthy, but you can be guaranteed that he’ll want this generation to protect, and guard, the legacy of those great players and teams that inspired this crew.
Some of those players are still around, especially TJ Reid, but there are two sides to every story, with multiple angles running through every chapter. The last team to beat Limerick were Kilkenny. So, of all the teams the All-Ireland champions want to beat, and still have to take down, they now have the ideal opportunity.
Beating Kilkenny in the 2018 All-Ireland quarter-final in Thurles was a huge gateway game for Limerick but Croke Park on All-Ireland final day is the perfect stage for a coronation against Cody’s army.
The big day always takes on a life of its own but Limerick will know full well that they’ll need to improve from this display. Galway put up a huge challenge but Limerick are creaking. On the other hand, to win in those circumstances showcased the greatness of the All-Ireland champions, and how Kilkenny will have to find something from the pit of their souls to finally slay them.
Galway set a tricky puzzle but Limerick still worked it out. Their defence was outstanding, led by the peerless Seán Finn. Along with Pádraic Mannion, I thought Finn was the best player on the pitch. They were followed closely by Barry Nash, Aaron Gillane and Kyle Hayes . Gillane didn’t seem to have many possessions but anything he got his hands on, he nailed.
Diarmaid Byrnes was massive again, proving once more how much of a lethal weapon he is from long-range frees. When Limerick were struggling for oxygen after half-time, Byrnes’ metronomic dead-ball striking was critical.
Limerick are just relentless, even when they don’t seem like they are. Galway chased them down hard coming up to half-time. They got it back to one point, but Limerick still went in four up. Another side would have just been clinging on to a one-point lead at the end and doing everything to just close it out but Limerick drove on and sealed the deal by three.
Everything counts and Galway just didn’t take enough of their chances. You won’t get away with a wide count in double figures but accumulating 19 will make the pain all the more acute again for Henry Shefflin’s side.
Galway showed Cody the template for two weeks by shutting down their main men around the middle, but Limerick still had the strength off the bench to come in and drive them over the line.
If you were scanning the programme beforehand for the class Limerick have in reserve, your eyes would immediately be drawn towards Cian Lynch, Peter Casey and not too many more But David Reidy proved his worth again and Conor Boylan won some crucial possession too. Cathal O’Neill has already shown what he can bring to the table throughout this summer.
Reidy is a big player for Limerick in the last quarter of every game. He’s more renowned for his assists but he’s a really reliable shooter. You wouldn’t be convinced about some of their other substitute forwards in front of goal but there are no doubts about Reidy in those scenarios. Three excellent points in such a tight last quarter speaks volumes for how monumental Reidy’s contribution was.
Limerick shot the lights out early before Galway slowed down that scoring rate. At 0-6 to 0-1 there was a feeling that it could be like Saturday’s Clare-Kilkenny game all over again but Galway gradually found a groove and Limerick lost theirs. It took them the rest of the game to re-establish that early rhythm.
I just don’t think Limerick are the same team without Cian Lynch. They have managed to win the last five games – effectively – without him but the puzzle still seems harder to work out when he’s not there to slip the pieces into the main picture.
It was a great occasion, gripping stuff. The atmosphere was electric but you could sense that outside the ground beforehand. There was a huge Limerick crowd, but Galway travelled in big numbers too – much bigger than I thought they would. And the Galway players reacted to that support.
Galway proved that they had the physical profile, and the experience, to match up to Limerick and take them on but they played some brilliant stuff and got some outstanding scores. Brian Concannon’s goal was one of the best we’ve seen in Croke Park in years. It proved too that there is a place for the long ball when you’ve the right man under it, in a one-on-one scenario close to goal.
Galway were tactically clued in too, giving the short puckout to Mikey Casey but making sure that Nash and Finn weren’t that short outlet.
Limerick’s long puckouts didn’t stick enough for their liking. Darragh O’Donovan and Will O’Donoghue had nothing like the same influence as in recent years in Croke Park. When O’Donoghue got an early score, you were saying, ‘Here we go, they’ll cut loose here today’. But Galway didn’t allow them to.
Galway were brave and bold. They just needed more from certain players, Conor Cooney, Jason Flynn and Conor Whelan just couldn’t get on the ball enough either. I’d say Whelan‘s point effort, that was ruled out by Hawkeye, was the only time Whelan had the ball in his hand in the first half.
Galway can be very proud of the challenge they posed and presented and Kilkenny will take on that baton now and run with it, charging hard and with everything they have to try and relieve Limerick of the All-Ireland, and the mantle they have assumed as hurling’s top dogs.
Finally, I got in early to watch the All-Ireland minor final on the TV. It was an unreal finish, laced with unbelievable drama. It was some year for those Tipp lads the way in which they dug out the Munster final, All-Ireland semi-final and final, with two of those games going to extra-time and one to penalties.
It was heartbreak for Offaly, especially when the game-changing moment looked like a free-out for them. They looked absolutely devastated afterwards but this is a brilliant young team that has done themselves and their county so incredibly proud.
And I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more about these young lads again in the future.