There were tears in Pat Donnelly’s eyes at the end of Limerick’s 2011 extra-time win over Cork in the Munster U21 hurling final. Selector on that occasion, Donnelly wore the bainisteoir’s bib yesterday evening. And while no tears were shed, the win was equally special.
“This was a bit different, maybe because we were in a different position. The game wasn’t as good as 2011. It doesn’t matter, though. The trophy is still in Limerick,” said the winning manager.
The two-point victory over Cork represented Limerick’s eighth provincial title at this grade and their second in three years, vindication, said Donnelly, of the work being done at underage level in the county.
“The underage academy is working very well and the proof is in the eating. The eating is this Munster championship.
“Cork had pressure on them coming in here because they had won the Munster U17, minor and senior titles. They were hoping the U21s would give them a clean sweep. We felt pressure as we were favourites. Being favourites against Cork doesn’t happen that often when you are from Limerick. The favourites’ tag probably stemmed from the fact that these lads are seven years on the road together. It is not like they came together seven weeks or seven months ago. This result is seven years in the making. It is great for the whole structure in place.”
And similar to their wins over Clare and Tipperary en-route to the final, this latest triumph was built off the back of a lightning start in which they tallied seven unanswered points.
“We were playing nice hurling but just went out of it for a time, then. We were letting them build from the back which annoyed us. That is the way games will go. Teams will get 10 and 15 minutes [of dominance] and they got their spell 15 minutes in. We held on, though.
“We said at half-time that you take being four points up in a Munster final, irrespective of the weather conditions. We knew we had players in there who could hold possession and see it out.
“We went out of the game for a period during the second-half, too, but it didn’t cost us. Cork came back and got four points, but only one of them was from play. We were working hard. They didn’t get into a flow of scoring points. Once we were able to come back up and get one or two at the finish, which we did, we were always going to hold out and thankfully, we did.” Pleasing Donnelly was that for the first time this summer, difficult questions were asked of his team. They answered emphatically.
“We expected a tough match. We played Cork in a challenge match earlier in the year and they looked the most organised team we met, even though they didn’t have any of their inter-county players. We knew coming in tonight that it was going to be very, very difficult. It proved that. We stood up.
“After winning two matches comfortably, it was good to see us dig out a result under a lot of pressure.”
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