Don’t try to figure it out just admire it



Any hurling aficionados among you might recognise the above headline. It has been here before. On the occasion Meath defeated Antrim for the first time in the Christy Ring Cup Final some years back before a re-fixture was ordered over some cock up with the full time score. But Meath were so good they won it twice. Now read on…

Not until Cathal O’Neill completed his usual cameo, clipping over his second point, the final score of an amazing game by an amazing team was the seal put on the 13th piece of silver.

Their 30 point target met. To merely read some of the numbers pertaining to what can now be well and truly called the Limerick era is completely astounding. Four All Irelands in a row, five in six years, five Munster titles on the trot and three National League crowns into the bargain make up the 13 trophies garnered thus far during John Kiely’s tenure.

There’s more. Today they had 11 different scorers. They hit TWENTY ONE points after half time. Diarmaid Byrnes sent over what must be a record eight points from wing back. Over the other side, Kyle Hayes pointed. Behind him, Barry Nash did likewise.

Diarmaid Byrnes gave one of the great All Ireland Final displays

Cian Lynch was at last in a position to let his explosive, exhuberant talents draw gasps from the crowd. Peter Casey launched four rocket propelled grenades at the Kilkenny goal at a time when the Shannonside harvest looked to be headed for the straw chopper.

The mercurial Cian Lynch

But here’s the thing, for the first half hour, the fare resembled the exact same period in the Limerick-Galway match. Richie Reid was the best player on the field, Eoin Cody essayed an exquisite shot past Nickie Quade and went within inches of dispatching another.

The brothers Reid

All of which meant that for the first time in God knows how long, Limerick looked like they could genuinely have been in trouble. But then, Limerick haven’t proven themselves to be one of the greatest teams ever seen by submitting to panic.

In a post match interview, Byrnes said they “Needed a big talk” at half time to rev themselves up, but regardless of what John Kiely or anybody else uttered, what this remarkable team produced in the final 38 minutes of their season was truly astonishing.

Twenty one points, the same tally their valiant opponents compiled throughout the entire contest. Which on another day against another team would’ve been more than enough to win many All Ireland Finals. Remember, Brian Cody lost his first All Ireland as manager 0-11 to 0-13 against Cork.

Granted, it’s a different hurling world now, but Limerick are now more than a team. They’re a phenomenon, a movement almost. Take players of the calibre of Sean Finn and/or Declan Hannon off any team and it would rattle their cages. I’m sure in Kilkenny tonight the masses will be wondering would David Blanchfield have made the difference? Would being able to have held Walter Walsh back for longer? Or putting Richie Hogan in earlier?

In contrast, once it was known Sean Finn was out, Mike Casey slots straight in, Hannon’s loss, on the other hand, had to be a jolt given how sudden and unexpected it will have been. Yet, as we have now come to expect from John Kiely’s side, the machine was simply recalibrated.

Will O’Donoghue was moulded into taking on Hannon’s role, Cian Lynch dropped from the half forward line to centre field and David Reidy slotted in on the 40 and, for this observer at least, the unsung hero of the latest chapter of the fairytale of Limerick.

Though it will be scant consolation to them at the moment, viewed through a certain lens, it has also been a successful maiden campaign at the helm for Derek Lyng. Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor and David Blanchfield continued to burgeon.

Richie Reid and Paddy Deegan grew in stature during the season, Tom Phelan and Billy Drennan emerged. Eoin Cody fitted the template of what a Captain should be perfectly.

And then there’s TJ. Every team needs a fulcrum, a beacon. Kilkenny teams have had them for an eternity. But even in my lifetime, I think of players like Pat O’Neill, John Power, DJ Carey, Andy Comerford, Eddie Brennan, Colin Fennelly and Henry Shefflin.

When the latter, in particular, vacated centre stage, there was one very obvious candidate to assume the mantle. A Ballyhale Shamrock, somebody who could also happily flit between the half forward and full forward lines and a free taker of such accuracy William Tell reportedly sought grinds.

I refer, of course, to Thomas Joseph Reid. TJ, that is. You know a sportsperson has really ‘made it’ when mention of their first name is enough to identify them. Now, maybe this is just the sporting romantic in me, but I genuinely believe the southpaw sharpshooter is getting better with age.

He’s 35 now. But if I’m Derek Lyng, a persuasion operation has to be the top of my to-do list. To me at least, there’s no doubt he has plenty left in him. Furthermore, having studied a few soundbites from the great man during the year, you suspect he feels there’s unfinished business there.

For John Kiely et al, the challenges are different now. What new targets can they set? How do you keep lads that have seen and done it all hungry and interested? How do you placate lads like Conor Boylan, Cathal O’Neill, Oisin O’Reilly and the other subs who have seen little or no game time to continue to buy into the ‘process’? Can Kiely convince Graeme Mulcahy to go again?

If I were near a bookies I’d wager in the affirmative on all of the above. The gaffer will find a way. The great ones always do. The only pity is – on account of the dastardly split season – we’ll have to wait seven months for it to all start again.

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