As an exhilarating inter-county season draws to a close, we issue each team with an end-of-season report card, discussing whether or not they fulfilled expectations. Next up, we review the season of All Ireland champions, Limerick.
How They Fared
Limerick laid down a marker from the very beginning of the season. In an impressive display, the Treaty men dismissed the challenge of Tipperary on a scoreline of 1-23 to 2-14 in the Gaelic Grounds. They had a break before their Round 3 game against Cork which was probably, the best game in the Munster championship.
Neither side could pull more than two points ahead of their opponents and Limerick were dealt a huge blow midway through the first half when Aaron Gillane received a straight red. Patrick Horgan looked to have scored the winner for Cork but just as their fans were breathing a sigh of relief, the young Limerick forwards combined to allow Kyle Hayes knock over an equalising point to end the thriller in a draw.
With that momentum behind them, John Kiely’s men easily overcame Waterford in the next round by 13 points in the Gaelic Grounds. That win set up what was effectively a Munster semi-final against neighbours and rivals, Clare in a packed out Cusack Park. To the surprise of many, Clare picked apart Limerick with ease. The Banner led from start to finish and cruised into the Munster final on a scoreline of 0-26 to 0-15, sentencing Limerick to a place in the preliminary quarter-finals.
As expected, the Treaty men cruised past Joe McDonagh champions, Carlow to set up a battle with Kilkenny for a place in the semi-final. And a battle it was. The brilliance of Eoin Murphy denied them goals on five occasions but the brilliance of their half-back and half-forward lines saw them holding a one-point lead in the 65th minute. But, it being Kilkenny, the game was far from over. Richie Hogan scored a goal to put them in the driving seat and even when Limerick scored three points in reply, Richie Leahy responded for the Cats. But two late points, one superb effort from Tom Morrissey and a free from Gillane saw John Kiely’s men into the All Ireland semi-final.
If hurling fans thought nothing could beat that spectacle in Semple Stadium, they were in for a treat with the All Ireland semi-finals. After Clare and Galway couldn’t be separated after extra time, Limerick and Cork went down the same route in an absolute classic. A goal from Cian Lynch had them one-point ahead at the end of the first half but the Munster champions upped the gears in the second and led by five in the 64th minute. Incredibly, Limerick scored six points without reply and a late Horgan point sent the game to extra-time. It was Limerick’s substitutes who shone in this period and goals from Shane Dowling and Pat Ryan sent them safely through to their first All Ireland final in 11 years.
There was much speculation before the final that Limerick’s young guns wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure of the occasion and that an efficient Galway side would eventually win out. But, once again, this Limerick side defied the odds. A goal from Graeme Mulcahy helped them to a four-point lead at half-time, despite being less than accurate with some of their shooting. Hayes came storming into the game in the second half and three points from him, plus a brilliant goal from Morrissey saw them nine points ahead with 15 minutes to go.
But this was the All Ireland final and they were playing the reigning champions. It was never going to be as easy as that. Galway chipped away at the lead. Super-sub Dowling added Limerick’s third goal but the Tribesmen were undeterred. Conor Whelan and Joe Canning struck past Nickie Quaid. Graeme Mulcahy nailed a pressure point but Niall Burke cancelled it out minutes later. With seconds remaining, Galway were awarded a long-range free and Canning made the trek to take it. Somehow, the effort fell short and Tom Condon soared into the air to catch the ball and send it flying out of the danger area.
The whistle blew. Players fell to their knees in disbelief. Declan Hannon climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand and lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup to end a 45-year famine. All to the soundtrack of the voice of Dolores O’Riordan. It was Limerick’s day, without doubt.
Highlight Of The Year
There were so many moments throughout the season that were vital to Limerick’s win. Kyle Hayes equalising point against Cork, Tom Morrissey’s point against Kilkenny, Tom Condon’s catch in the final. But the one moment that will live long in the memory’s of Limerick hurling fans is Nickie Quaid’s vital interception against Cork in the semi-final. Gillane had managed to level the game in normal-time but Cork were suddenly bearing down on goal. Quaid made the impulsive decision to come off his line and meet Seamus Harnedy and he managed to get his hurl to the ball before the Cork captain could strike.
Check out this unbelievable save by Nickie Quaid! pic.twitter.com/Y3deg0CM18
— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 29, 2018
Player Of The Season
All 15 players that began the All Ireland final have been nominated for an All-Star but the player we feel was their biggest contributor this year, was controversially left out of the nominations for Hurler of the Year. Graeme Mulcahy scored 3-16 from play this summer but it was his contribution off-the-ball that earned him many plaudits. His leadership was vital in the young forward unit while his quick-thinking and selflessness were key aspects of his game.
The 2019 season is already being earmarked as one of the most open championships’ in recent times. Limerick will have a huge battle to retain their crown but they still have a young team who will be even hungrier as a result of this win. The quickest route is to win Munster which must be a priority for them.
A+. Top marks for the All Ireland champions.