Diarmaid Byrnes holds no recollection of Limerick’s U21 three-in-a-row at the turn of the millennium.
Instead of travelling to the games or watching the finals on TG4, Byrnes was more concerned with hopping a sliotar against the gable end above in Patrickswell.
It’s been 13 years now since Peter Lawlor returned the Cross of Cashel trophy to the Treaty County for a third successive September, the 3-17 to 0-8 annihilation of Galway standing as the county’s last All-Ireland triumph at any grade.
Byrnes will be the first green shirt to emerge from the tunnel underneath the Kinane Stand tomorrow evening and in preparation for his debut All-Ireland final appearance, he’s been knocking on the doors of the heroes from 2000-02 yearning guidance.
“I was eight at the time of the 2002 final win. I wouldn’t even have been going to the games, I would have been messing out on the street beating a ball,” he remarks. “I wouldn’t know the difference, I wouldn’t even the know the games are on. 13 years is a bit of an oul gap!
“There were three lads from Patrickswell on those teams - Paul O’Reilly, Paul O’Grady and Eoin Foley. I have spoken to them and you’ll take on board any advice you can get.
“They’d be talking about games they played in and to keep it cool, don’t get too hyped up and don’t get too caught up in the whole occasion. You can lose track of yourself. It is grand to have them. They have been there, done that.”
In his final year at this grade, Byrnes hadn’t enjoyed a single Munster U21 championship win until the July semi-final victory over Tipperary. Two games later and John Kiely’s charges stand on the cusp of All-Ireland glory.
Even with the influx of players from last year’s minor panel, Byrnes says he’s been surprised by their progression. “I was centre-back last year against Clare and we didn’t really get going. We have only four on the mark who are overage for next year and having all those minors coming through, it does add to it. Without them... they have Croke Park and All-Ireland final experience.
“Every match we have played this year we have been underdogs. We were underdogs against Tipperary and even for the Munster final we were underdogs. We came up here to Thurles as underdogs for the semi-final against Galway. You would expect to be, with the names that are out there - Bobby Duggan and Shane O’Donnell on the Clare side, Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion on the Galway side. We dealt with them all.
“There is a good defensive unit there, Richie English there at full-back, Barry O’Connell is a good, strong centre-back. There is a good bond between the backs. We are all close friends outside of hurling. We all know each others game and we know where the other lad is going to be. You’ve got to know and trust the fella beside you.”
An unstinting work-rate, claims the wing-back, has been central in propelling Limerick to within one hour of All-Ireland success and as captain, he’s keen to lead by example against a much vaunted Wexford attack.
“Defence starts at corner-forward. You saw Ronan Lynch there against Clare in the Munster final, he chased his man 90 yards down the field. It gives the backs a boost to see that. The talent is there, but the work-rate is second to none. It is what has got us over the line in the last couple of matches.
“As captain, I try to keep it cool. Players would be looking up to me. You try and lead them as best you can. If you are going round acting nervous and they are looking at you, it sends out the wrong vibe. I’d try to be nice and relaxed, crack a joke or something.
“When it comes down to it, though, I’d be the first man at the table to let them know where they are and what is on the line. Leadership starts on the field. You can say what you want, but if you are not doing it inside the lines... if you lead by example the younger players on the team will follow.”
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