Limerick manager Pat Donnelly sees no reason why his players can’t translate their U21 success into senior glory.
A second All-Ireland U21 title in three years has, as you’d expect, evoked comparisons between the current crop and the three-in-a-row winning teams from 2000-02. The latter failed to push on at senior level, but Donnelly doesn’t envisage past mistakes being repeated.
This is a group of players, after all, who, in 2015, secured U21 glory 12 months after coming up short in the minor final. And when their U21 title defence ran aground early in the summer of 2016, they regrouped under Donnelly and conquered all before them.
“If you go back over the years and look at the player profiles on All-Ireland senior final day, they all have minor, U21 and Fitzgibbon medals. All our lads have them now so there is no reason why Limerick can’t go on and be successful at senior level. The foundation is there,” Donnelly remarked.
“These are lads that will play with confidence. Minding them for the next couple of years is the big thing. We won U21s before in the early noughties. The lessons have been learned. Hopefully, they keep their feet on the ground, keep the heads right and go on to perform for Limerick seniors.”
Patience, too, is equally important. Joe Canning won his All-Ireland U21 medal in September of 2007. It wasn’t until last week — a full 10 seasons later — when he managed to get his hands on Liam.
“It is never going to happen overnight. People got involved in the Limerick underage Academy seven years ago, they didn’t expect it to happen overnight. They were looking very, very far ahead. You have to have patience. It is working. It is getting there.”
Donnelly was in charge when the county minors came up short to Tipperary in last year’s minor final. He was subsequently elevated to the U21 post and their path to glory couldn’t be more impressive. Clare, Tipperary, Cork and Galway were taken down en route, with history made on Saturday as Limerick had never beaten Kilkenny in an All-Ireland U21 final.
“We said on Thursday night that this was the one to win, doing something that had never been done before. All the teams we beat along the way were top hurling counties. The favourites’ tag was with us all year. It didn’t interfere with our performances. It gave the lads confidences, they believed they could win this All-Ireland.
“On January 6, we met these lads in UL. I said last Thursday night that there was a special feeling about that first meeting. Tom Morrissey spoke that night and we picked him not long after as our captain. We said he’d lead us to the All-Ireland and thankfully, it is after panning out that way.
“For Limerick to have never lost an U21 final is a great record. We’re delighted to be able to continue it. We didn’t want to be the first to break that tradition. The lads played very, very well. They executed the game-plan to perfection. They played intelligent hurling. There was no panic.”
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