A one-point defeat is never an easy pill to swallow, especially when your team are denied an opportunity to level the game, a situation which John Kiely’s side found themselves in against Kilkenny on Saturday.
In the dying seconds of the game with just one point between the sides, Darragh O’Donovan’s sideline cut, which was sailing towards the target, appeared to have deflected off the hurley of Cillian Buckley, but much to the outrage of the Limerick midfielder, the ball was called wide by the umpires.
Even from his position at the opposite side of the field, Kiely could tell that the trajectory of the ball completely changed mid-flight.
“We knew straight away. We could see by the flight of the ball, it was taking a certain flight, it changed, it flew off to a different angle.
“We knew it was after taking a touch, what can we do. The crowd on that side of the field. You could see from their reaction, it was obvious that something had happened and we could see ourselves from the flight of the ball what had happened.”
Despite the controversial late call, Limerick can have no complaints about the manner of their defeat. Kilkenny enjoyed a blistering start to the game, racing into a 1-8 to 0-2 lead but the All Ireland champions weathered the storm, cutting the margin back to just a solitary point.
Crucially, Limerick could not find that equalising score, squandering five opportunities while their wide count of 15 will make for difficult reading for the backroom team and management.
Kiely had no complaints following the game, knowing full well that they were out-worked and out-classed by the better side.
“When you are 10 points to two down after about 15-17 minutes you have given yourself a mountain to climb. Kilkenny brought a ferocious intensity to the breaking ball and got a platform that they were very efficient with. They have themselves that bit of head start, the challenge from then on was to close that gap.
“We got it down to two and one and two and one, then it went out again to five and that really gave us a massive challenge again, closed it to two again and then to get it back to one and we were probably looking for that one little opening to come where we could get level.
“Had we broken that chink and got that level we could possibly have pushed on again but it wasn’t to be.”
Despite what was a bitterly disappointing loss, it has been an unprecedented 12 months for the Treaty men. This young group of players defied all expectations when they lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup last August and subsequently backed that up with wins in the Allianz League and Munster Championship.
Given that the average age of Saturday’s starting team is 25, Limerick will be on the scene for years to come and Kiely expects his group to come back even stronger and hungrier following the loss.
“Every bit of the way, we’ve enjoyed it. The boys are very disappointed right now because there was a huge prize at stake tonight but it is not to be.
“That defeat won’t define that group. If anything, it will strengthen the resolve of this group to come back again. They are a young bunch. They are very ambitious.
“They are very united. I’ve no doubt they’ll come back again and they’ll challenge again in the future.”