Stephen McDonagh: ‘When you cross the white line, age becomes irrelevant’

Former Limerick hurler Stephen McDonagh has described Treaty supporters as the most patient in the country and says the younger members of John Kiely’s team must deliver in this Sunday’s Munster SHC semi-final.

Of the 35 Limerick players to see game-time during this year’s league, nine fall into the U21 bracket, while five more were eligible for this grade last year. From this group, Kyle Hayes (a minor in 2016), the Casey brothers, Peter and Mike, Ronan Lynch and David Dempsey are in line to make their championship debuts against Clare at Semple Stadium.

All of these players were part of minor and U21 teams that overcame Cork selections in recent years, including last year’s Munster U21 quarter-final, and so if Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman can step up to the mark in the company of the All-Ireland champions, Limerick’s younger brigade should be able to do likewise this weekend.

“If the Cork young lads can do it, I don’t see why ours can’t,” said McDonagh.

“I was involved with the Limerick minor management in 2014 and we had a mighty match against Cork in the Munster semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds. Shane Kingston and Luke Meade were playing that night for Cork. We won through.

“You would be hoping that Limerick should be able to kick on and develop the way that Cork’s young players are after developing. Limerick were able to negotiate Cork, Tipperary, and Waterford at underage, you’d be hoping that they’d be able to bring that on to senior now.

“Ahead of Cork’s visit to Thurles on Sunday week last, the smart money was on Tipperary. Cork went with youth. These lads had fierce speed and played fast open hurling. Have Limerick got the players to do it? I don’t see why they haven’t. You end up having to deliver. That is what Munster championship is about. When you cross the white line, age kinda becomes irrelevant.”

Prior to the county’s league semi-final, Joe McKenna stressed the importance of giving these players time to develop and find their feet at senior level. McDonagh, corner back on the defeated All-Ireland final teams of 1994 and ‘96, reckons they’ve been patient for long enough.

“If there is a more patient bunch of supporters in Ireland than Limerick, I wonder where they are. We’ve been really patient since 1973.

“I wouldn’t really buy into the ‘we must have patience’ theory that much. You need to deliver. A lot of these young lads have come through pretty successful minor campaigns where they won a couple of Munster championships and they won the All-Ireland U21 too. I wouldn’t be buying into the patience theory.”

Limerick lost that aforementioned league semi-final to Galway by a margin of 10 points on home turf. The starting six forwards contributed just 0-3 from open play and McDonagh is adamant that Sunday’s performance will have to be raised by several notches.

“That wasn’t an acceptable performance by any manner of means. The league was fierce disappointing but Limerick are better than they showed in the semi-final.

“I wouldn’t say you’d be surprised if Limerick won. But I do think Clare are more seasoned. Clare have four or five of the top hurlers in the country, on their day. You’ve Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath, David McInerney and Colm Galvin. They have underachieved since 2013. After winning the All-Ireland, you’d have expected them to contest another one a year or two later. They didn’t. They look to be a team that could explode into life at any time. You’re waiting for that happen.”


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