Hunger game on the menu

Readers of a non-feline persuasion still a little glum after the events of last Sunday, will do worse than to tune in to TG4 tonight. 

There’s an All-Ireland final taking place in Thurles and it could be the most tremendous fun, the way that U21 matches televised by TG4 frequently are. Go for it. You know you want to. What’s the worst that can possibly happen? Kilkenny aren’t gonna win this one.

Even if the evening turns out to be no classic, it at least represents a change of dish on the menu and for the neutral will surely prove lighter on the tongue than the fare at Croke Park six days ago.

For one thing, it features a colour scheme — green and white and purple and gold – rarely witnessed in September: memories there of Croke Park in 1996, a match for which John Kiely, Limerick’s manager here, was a sub. He hasn’t been able to bring himself to watch the video since.

Maybe tonight will furnish him with a degree of closure.

To muse thus, however, is to put the cart before the quadruped, an occupational hazard at this level. Sometimes we get too hung up on underage matches, too intent on their context, whether real or imagined, to remember that the picture matters more than the frame.

Being the obsessives we are, we inevitably have an agenda and the agenda is invariably the future. Will that full-back have the pace for senior, and if he has, how would he fare on Seamus Callanan? Yer man the little corner-forward is neat and knacky, but is he simply too light to cut it against Noel Connors or Paul Murphy? And so on.

What transpired on Jones’s Road on Sunday does not impinge on tonight’s game and shouldn’t be allowed to. That Kilkenny were able to retain the MacCarthy Cup without having a glove laid on them, and this with a quarter of last year’s panel departed and three of their remaining biggest names nowhere near the full of their health, already contains obvious implications for 2016. This has nothing to do with these lads though.

This is an All-Ireland final, utterly and entirely unto itself, not an afterthought to last Sunday. Most of the players will never participate in another one, irrespective of the grade, devoutly and all as it is to be hoped that at least some of them do. So sit back, enjoy and wish them the best. It may be the start of something for the winners and it may not. With Limerick’s three in a row champions of the early noughties in mind, let’s not get het up about it one way or the other.

Both sides are here because they paid for their ticket. Limerick did so in beating the All- Ireland minor champions of three years ago and then dethroning the holders in this grade. Wexford travelled to Tullamore and won by 10 points, upon which they hosted Kilkenny and didn’t so much beat them as atomise them.

The winners tonight will not have captured the title any oul’ way, not that Limerick or Wexford would quibble with such silverware; a hungry man does not look for jam on his bread and butter. Au contraire: they’ll have won it the hard way, and richly deserved to do so. The manner of it will make the triumph even more satisfying. Bread, butter and jam, with a dollop of cream on the top.

What’s impressed about Wexford is how clinical they’ve been. What’s impressed about Limerick is how dogged they’ve been. There’s a case for arguing that Waterford were the best team in Munster, not that it matters now, but Limerick gritted it out against Tipp. They led by 12 points after 24 minutes, they were very nearly hauled back, they played the closing quarter a man short and they still managed to plop over the finishing line, 3-16 to 3-14.

Clare weren’t the team they had been, that was no secret, yet Limerick still had to travel to Cusack Park and beat them; they did so by 0-22 to 0-19 thanks to 13 points from Ronan Lynch. By the same token Galway may have been no worldbeaters but they still weren’t going to be bad; this time it was 1-3 from Tom Morrissey that helped Kiely’s charges through.

Not unlike Waterford in recent years, the good minor teams Limerick have been producing are beginning to provide a well stocked pool of young talent. Richie English confined Shane O’Donnell to a point in the provincial final, Diarmuid Byrnes at right-half back looks the coming man and Ronan Lynch has rare accuracy from distance.

Cian Lynch we know about, a breath of fresh air in the senior arena early in the summer. While he remains a little too fond of ball tricks, that’s nothing that experience and good coaching won’t plane away. You’d much prefer a chap with the confidence to try something different than a chap without it. And the ground stroke for his goal against Tipperary was a thing of natural, uncoached, unforced beauty.

John Kiely might have become Limerick senior manager after John Allen’s departure; he’s a racing certainty for the position down the line. As befits a secondary school principal, he’s organised, energetic and driven. Analysing the opposition is part of his remit. It’ll be a shock if he hasn’t done considerable due diligence on Wexford.

He’ll have watched their 4-17 to 1-9 evisceration of Kilkenny, and this after the concession of 1-1 in the first couple of minutes. He’ll have noted Kevin Foley’s seven points against Offaly, Cathal Dunbar’s samba goal in the same game and Conor McDonald’s 1-3 from play in the Leinster final. McDonald’s progress over the past couple of seasons has been well flagged, as has that of Liam Ryan in defence. Foley has the ability to find good positions in attack while Jack O’Connor, of the St Martin’s O’Connors, has size and can hurl.

Limerick negotiated the rockier road though. That may swing it, and allow John Kiely to watch the video of this particular Limerick/Wexford encounter before too long.


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