Category: Archive

Cats nab 30th title with stylish win over Limerick

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Even if it’s a touch simplistic to say that this All Ireland final was won and lost in those opening 10 minutes, it’s still one way of boiling the game down. Against an imperious Kilkenny team brimming with intent and confidence, Limerick desperately needed to start well, and they failed.
A few spectators who might have had trouble parking in Dublin’s clogged streets, or who might have savored their pre-match pint for a little longer than they should, were still finding their seats in the stadium when the scoreboard read: Kilkenny 2-3 Limerick 0-0. Eddie Brennan smashed in the first goal before Henry Shefflin rose above Stephen Lucey to skilfully bat home the second, and three points fizzed over the bar into the bargain.
Limerick’s body language wasn’t that of beaten team, but the maths indicated otherwise. “We came out with a plan not to concede goals, but it didn’t work out and we were playing catch up from then on,” said their manager, Richie Bennis, ruefully. “At one stage we thought we were going to be annihilated, however, we came back into the game and we were in with a chance midway through the second half.”
Bennis’s nephew and one of Limerick’s selectors, Gary Kirby, didn’t see it any differently. “We lost the match in the first 10 minutes, there’s no question about it. Our main objective was not to concede goals, so those two goals killed us. You can’t give a team like Kilkenny that kind of start. At the end of the day, we were beaten by a much better team.”
Limerick won’t thank anyone for pointing out that they battled on courageously, and even won the last hour of the contest by 1-15 to 0-16, but what did that matter when Henry Shefflin was brandishing the Liam McCarthy Cup in front of his adoring Kilkenny supporters?
The brutal truth of an occasion that had a faint whiff of anti-climax about it was that every time Limerick got up a head of steam by narrowing the gap, Kilkenny would seamlessly move clear once again. What was apparent was how hard Limerick had to work for their scores, and how relatively easily Kilkenny picked off theirs.
For all the losers’ tenacity, the skills of Andrew O’Shaughnessy were blunted by Jackie Tyrell, Damien Reale wasn’t his usual influence self at the back, Peter Lawlor was skinned by Eoin Larkin during the first half, Donie Ryan was moved back towards midfield before being replaced in the second half, Brian Begley made no impression, and their talented young defender, Seamus Hickey, was given the run-around by Eddie Brennan.
To match up to Kilkenny, Limerick had to be at their very best, and they had to win most of the individual battles. The champions even lost two key players, Noel Hickey and Shefflin, through injury, and still the machine hummed until the end. For Limerick, only the effervescent Ollie Moran, who finished with 1-3 from play, and Mark Foley came through the occasion with their self-esteem fully intact.
Kilkenny led by 2-10 to 0-8 at the break, and although Limerick’s goal, brilliantly finished by Moran, gave them a flicker of hope, the margin was never less than five points. “That was the story of the day really,” reflected Kirby, “we never got below five points. We were chasing and chasing but we just couldn’t get down to the one goal.”
Apart from a livewire Brennan, who was widely regarded as the man of the match both for his total of 1-5 from play and for the way he terrorised the Limerick defense, Kilkenny didn’t have to perform to their peak. Both Martin Comerford and Aidan Fogarty were surprisingly quiet, and because of their injuries neither Shefflin nor Hickey left an indelible mark on the proceedings, however, there were touches of sheer class from Larkin, JJ Delaney, Richie Power, and most of all from the extraordinarily versatile Tommy Walsh who must now be a contender for the hurler of the year award.
The bittersweet element of a day when Kilkenny equalled Cork’s record of 30 All Ireland titles came when Shefflin and young Darragh McGarry lifted the McCarthy Cup together. Darragh’s mother, Vanessa, the wife of reserve goalkeeper James McGarry, had been tragically killed in a road accident during the summer, and there were tears at the moment of triumph.
“We had so many reasons to win this game,” said manager Brian Cody. “This final is dedicated without a shadow of a doubt to James and Darragh McGarry and to Vanessa. The tragedy struck the whole camp during the year. It can never be forgotten, it won’t ever be forgotten. James McGarry has been such an inspiration over the years, and this year probably more than ever. For Darragh and James we had to deliver this All Ireland final.”
Shifting more specifically to hurling matters, the normally reserved Cody felt the need to castigate the Galway manager, Ger Loughnane, for basically suggesting the Kilkenny were resorting to dirty tactics. Loughnane had referred to “flicking” and “belting across the wrists” among his accusations, however, Cody was having none of it.
“I know Ger very, very well, and it’s sad to see him descend to that level. Inferiority is what I believe it is. It’s blatant garbage; it’s wrong and it’s untruthful. Opposition players respect us and we respect them. He has stepped beyond lines of all sorts of decency. He’s suggesting that we’re a dirty team and that’s wrong. It doesn’t hurt me because he can’t hurt me, but the team he is criticising is a great team and a very clean team.”
Meanwhile, most observers were contemplating Kilkenny’s assault next year on three titles in a row. Because of the inequities of the system, and because of a low-key Leinster championship, Limerick were the first Munster team they encountered all summer. No clashes with Waterford, Cork or Tipperary on the way to glory.
Still, who is to say that Kilkenny aren’t talented enough and ruthless enough to put away all-comers? They march on, giants of hurling, while Bennis and his young Limerickmen regroup to give it another shot.
If they reach the decider in 2008, you can bet they’ll play for the full 70 minutes.

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