Munster SHC Final
Cork v Limerick
Sunday: Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 4pm
Like one of his frees through the air, Shane Dowling cuts through the bull.
Wasn’t it only two years ago as a 19-year-old pup that he called out the negativity of the Limerick fans? “Personally, this is my first year in the senior panel and I was very disappointed with the Limerick public,” he told newspapers at the time. “Some of the stuff that you’re being told or hearing or seeing, it didn’t make any difference to us but it was just disappointing to see and to hear.”
Cornflakes splattered and coffee splurted on breakfast tables around the county that morning. Not because the words were wrong, but that they could come from such a young mouth.
Dowling has always been forthright, though. When the GAA altered the penalty and 20 metre rule last month, he voiced his opposition. He was just as frank when he revealed after scoring 2-9 against Tipperary that an abusive text message had spurred him on, and felt Limerick had been given no credit going into the game.
In that regard, he’s a breath of fresh air but he knows when to button it too. The aftermath of Donal O’Grady’s exit, leaving TJ Ryan as the sole manager, was one of those times. He took his lead from the more experienced players who had been through the 2010 strike.
“If we got bogged down in that, we were only fooling ourselves. That saga of the 2009 and 2010 probably stood to a lot of the boys. They probably got involved in that because they had no choice and essentially it got nobody anywhere.
“We, the players, have to perform. What else goes on you can sit on a barstool and talk about it when you’re retired, talk about what happened. Now we had to have full focus on the job at hand.
“I was with TJ last year with the 21s and I was 100% sure of the type of guy he is and his character and how he’ll handle things. I know the 21s result against Tipp last year didn’t go our way but I said it earlier in the year it was no fault of his own. So he was well capable of picking up the bainisteoir bib.”
Losing O’Grady, the players had been written off but they still felt in the right frame, Dowling recalls. “When it happened, on the Thursday or Friday, we trained on the Tuesday, we played a 15 on 15 and it was the best session we had.
“People were sick of listening to the crap that went on for the two of three days previously and instead of going into our shell and feeling sorry for ourselves yet again, the lads put the shoulder to the wheel and we had no choice but to drive on. I wouldn’t say it had much of an effect, really.”
The Cork man’s departure has meant a slight change of style, by no means significant. “There kind of was, a small bit. 90% of the time our players will give the right ball. If that’s firing the ball into the edge of the square, then that’s the right ball. We did that as well with Donal. There was a sort of a morbid perception out there that that was the way Limerick were going, and it was nearly an excuse when we played bad that that was why, more than anything.
“If the right ball is hitting it 100 yards, well then, that’s the right ball. If the right ball is giving two or three passes in a 15-metre radius, then that’s the right ball as well.”
Dowling points out the vast majority of the Limerick side have never played a Munster senior game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“Maybe a couple of them (such as Paul Browne and Graeme Mulcahy) played that 2010 game and got a feel for it. But if you go through the team, the majority haven’t.
“Look we’re not going rooting for excuses, that’s nothing to concern us. It’s a beautiful field, it’s got two goalposts, the stands are maybe a bit smaller than other places but that’s of no relevance, really.”
Limerick are as long as 2/1 for the game, almost identical to how they were regarded before the Tipp game.
Dowling won’t be speaking Cork down, though. “They’re favourites for a reason and we’re not fools. They’re after coming on immensely from last year and obviously with the new players they’ve got. Obviously the spine of their team is totally changed.
“Everyone saw the players’ interviews after the game: everything was Páirc Uí Chaoimh, we can’t wait to get there. They want to strike it off on a good note and every county would be the same.”
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