All Ireland Hurling Final day in 1999 was atrocious. Windy, wet, and hardly condusive to open, entertaining hurling. Two weeks thereafter, the weather was identically drab, yet Meath and Cork managed to produce a close, exciting encounter worthy of the occasion. Highlighted by brilliant goals by Cork’s. Joe Kavanagh and Ollie Murphy of Meath.
For whatever reason, the showpiece in the small ball code transpired to be the worst this writer can recall in three decades of being attuned to Gaelic games. Not that it mattered a jot to Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his talented team.
Mind you, it was also a bit ironic when one considers firstly the rivalry which re-ignited between the old foes in the years which followed. And, more pertinently, the majesty with which Brian Cody recovered from that maiden defeat to construct an empire which held the hurling world in theig hands for so long.
As far as can be deciphered, ’99 was the last hurling final prior to yesterday without a goal. Now, maybe it’s down to how the dynamics of the game – and those playing it – have evoolved seismically in the interim that the majesty which Limerick, in particular, and Waterford, hurled with, that it may as well have been from another galaxy compared to the dross at the turn of the Milennium.
Whether it was before the match or in the midst thereof cannot be recalled, but, Michael Duignan’s assertion that John Kiely’s side had been hurling within themselves throughout this strangest of season. Well, by God, did they throw off the shackles here and hurl with an abandon that only the truly great teams allow themselves.
Thus, from the moment Meath’s Jack Fagan flashed a fizzing rocket across the bows of Nicky Quaide’s goal early on, there was a sense of foreboding that those were exactly the chances the now De La Salle clubman and his colleagues needed to be converting with maximum efficiency if they were going to upset the odds.
Any team is only as good as the sum of their collective parts, and, when it came to getting the job done most recently, for all that the artists like Kyle Hayes and Cian Lynch and Aaron Gillane as usual weaved their magic, yesterday was a day for the forager/gatherers – and that is meant in the most complimentary means of those terms – such as Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey and Seamus Flanagan showed their worth and pure class. The latter in particular, launching over one of the finest scores the one seeing eye here has ever bore witness
I posted on Facebook during the most serious part of Graham Geraghty’s illness saying Keep taking your points and the goals will come. It appears, however, that those in green and white decided to formulate a policy along the lines of Take your points and you won’t need goals Something which in reality they had sussed throughout their campaign as they must have averaged 30+ points in all of their games.
After Fagan’s early miss, it took Waterford a while to settle but, despite their profligacy in front of goal, an exhibition of long range point-taking from Stephen Bennett meant those who entered via the back door only trailed by three points, 0-14 to 0-11 at the break. Yes, they could have been even closer as Austin Gleeson was inches away with a couple of goal attempts. But, if Stephen O’Keeffe hadn’t pulled off two of the most mesmerising saves you are ever likely to see in any sport which requires a custodian.
It must also be remembered, of course, that very very early on Liam Cahill’s team lost one of their two main talismen, Tadhg De Burca, very early on (in fact you wonder was the half back withdrawn a bit hastily) and so, aside from Bennett’s arrow-like accuracy from dead balls, Gleeson manfully stood up to the plate as he and his colleagues continued to pour water on several smouldering fires until the hose could produce no more.
And the flaming brilliance never ceased. Or never looked like doing so. It actually seems strange to think that Cian Lynch didn’t score at all in the game, but, such was his virtuoso display in all other facets of the game, that hardly mattered. Especially as the quarter back’s two wide receivers Hegarty (0-7) and Morrissey (0-5) ably bolstered chief gunslinger Aaron Gillane haul of half a score to leave the Shannonsiders safely clear of their valiant opponents.
The great Ger Loughnane once said “It takes a good team to win one All Ireland, but it takes a great to win two”. This Limerick team most definitely merits the said adjective, and them some. Gut feeling is they are far from finished yet.