As captain Diarmaid Byrnes climbed the steps of the stand in Ennis’s Cusack Park, Limerick U21 manager John Kiely, lost in a sea of green and white on the pitch below, attempted to make sense of their summer-rescuing win.
The preceding weeks had been a miserable spell for Limerick hurling - the county’s minor and intermediate teams emerging empty-handed from their respective provincial finals, the seniors falling to Tipperary and Dublin.
Pressure then lay with the U21 side to ensure at least one piece of silverware was added to the trophy cabinet on the Ennis Road.
Kiely’s troops would duly oblige, ending Clare’s four-in-a-row Munster and All-Ireland ambitions in the process.
“This is a huge lift for Limerick hurling,” he remarked, one eye on Byrnes’ ascent to collect the Munster crown, “we needed something after the year we have had.”
Cian Lynch didn’t appreciate on the night the full worth of their 0-22 to 0-19 win.
Instead, it was the reaction of young kids at the various Cúl Camps the following week that hammered home how this team are the now the last hope of Limerick hurling on the national stage in 2015.
“We needed it,” reflects the 19-year old forward. “The minors got knocked out, the seniors got knocked out. We kind of said to ourselves, ‘Limerick need this’. The young fellas that come up to us when we’re out at the Cúl Camps, they’re looking up to us. It’s in our hands now at this stage.
“We need to bring back a bit of bite, a bit of hope for these kids to see that Limerick are winning stuff and are doing well.”
Galway provide the opposition in this evening’s penultimate round and Lynch doesn’t view it as pressure the expectations of a county to deliver a first All-Ireland U21 final appearance since 2002.
He enjoys this grade, lining out with the lads he first pulled on a green shirt with at the Tony Forristal tournament down in Waterford six years ago.
“A lot of lads say they love playing U21 and minor compared to senior. I’d have to agree. You’re playing with lads you grew up with, that you’ve been playing with for years.
“There’s much more enjoyment out of it, you’re free and you’re going out. It’s not pressure, it’s just an onus on ourselves to go out there and do the best we can.”
Not that he didn’t relish his debut season at the top table.
“It was some experience now, I must say that. This time last year I wasn’t expecting to be on the senior team 12 months later. It’s an experience, you play Clare in the first round, play well. Then we played Tipperary and things just didn’t go our way. Dublin again, things didn’t go our way. These things happen. It was just a bad few days at the office.
“The U21s took the mind off it. Going back playing with the lads you grew up with, the lads that will get your jokes. It’s what you’d prefer to be doing, hurling all the summer.”
Team-mates at Mary I, Lynch sent a text to Galway half-forward Conor Whelan in the aftermath of last Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
The Kinvara teenager clipped over two-points for the Tribesmen and is one of three starters from Anthony Cunningham’s team who will feature in Thurles this evening.
“I’d be friendly enough with him. I gave him a text after the match yesterday saying ‘well done’. I will probably see him Saturday. I don’t think he was on the panel at the start of the year but he’s a serious hurler. We’ll have to keep an eye on himself, Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion. You’d have to tie a rope around them and hold them tight.
“We know what we have to do. I don’t know if it makes much difference meeting Galway now or whenever. Galway are coming in off great wins, they’re in the senior final, minor final, camogie final and they’re hoping to get in to the U21 final as well. We’ll go out and give them the utmost respect, they’re on a roll. We’re coming in, we played the Munster final so we’ve a few games behind us.” And what of their 2013 minor semi-final meeting, the westerners scoring a controversial extra-time win?
“HawkEye, ah Jaysus, don’t bring that up now,” quips the Patrickswell native. “HawkEye it was said was the fault, but that was only one thing. We won’t dwell on that. It’s a thing of the past.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved