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Clash of Kilkenny and Limerick offers a taste of what is to come

Kilkenny and Limerick play in the All-Ireland U20 final at Semple Stadium.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE CURTAIN RAISER to Kilkenny and Tipperary’s thrilling 2014 drawn final saw the Cats take on Limerick in the minor. This was a time when the green machine was just starting to kick into gear. 

That Limerick team included Sean Finn, Cian Lynch, Barry Nash, Peter Casey and Seamus Flanagan. Kilkenny beat them by four points. 

“That was unreal,” later recalled Darragh Joyce, Kilkenny captain on the day. 

“You think you will be in a final every year then. The following year we got knocked out by Galway in a semi. 2014 was amazing for us. Those years were just incredible to look back on. We went into the U21 good to go off that. When you get a taste you want to kick on.” 

Joyce subsequently left Eddie Brennan’s squad to head for Australia and pursue an AFL career. Limerick’s minors progressed and reached the U21 decider in 2017. Once more, their opponents were Kilkenny. This time the tables reversed and Limerick were triumphant. 

That side demonstrated the ideal concoction at this level. Primarily, it is about development. Steering a strong cohort through to the senior setup. Add in a taste of success and it’s the perfect recipe. 

“I think the academy is all about getting lads from the ground to senior level,” explains former Limerick captain and current Development Officer Paul Browne.

paul-browne Source: Lorraine OÕSullivan/INPHO

“When you are there you want to do as well as you can but success is a byproduct. It is a little more important at U20s.

“We are in a final on Sunday, 100% we want to win. Will we be devastated if we lose? Absolutely. But regardless of the result, have the lads developed and improved? They have and that is a key part of it.”

The old empire and burgeoning dynasty would become familiar in subsequent seasons. A remarkable 10 who played in the 2017 U21 final were involved in the 2018 quarter-final showdown that propelled Limerick to the Liam MacCarthy Cup. 

The Kilkenny team that turned them over in the 2019 semi-final featured six from that U21 side. 

Diarmuid Mullins’ Limerick U20 championship panel includes Cathal O’Neill, Adam English, Colin Coughlan and Patrick O’Donovan who all were involved with the senior squad this year. Sunday is significant for the players beyond them. 

“Success is important to get the rest to bridge that gap. Giving lads confidence and suddenly John Kiely is saying, I might have six or seven more options than I thought I would,” says Browne. 

On the other side, Kilkenny’s Derek Lyng has not faced such an issue with little senior involvement. Their path has been markedly different. They triumphed in an extra-time nailbiter against Galway. The Leinster final ended in a one-point over win Wexford. Their season has been defined by fine margins in a knockout competition. 

derek-lyng Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

 Munster was a different system. Limerick went from a group to the semi-final. They were impressive at every stage.

The only stumbling block was an administrative one. Having played in the senior championship, Cathal O’Neill is now unable to line out again for the U20 side. A GAA rule dictates that any player who features in the inter-county championship at senior level may not return to the U20 team until the seniors are eliminated from the competition. 

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Various Treaty men, from Kiely to Gearoid Hegarty, have slated the rule publicly. 

For Browne, it is mainly frustrating because it is illogical.  

“They were able to manage both all the way along. We have five involved in some capacity and we are in contact with John every week. It is so well managed all the way through.

“We didn’t have them for a while as they were just with the seniors. For the last six months, we managed it and then suddenly it is not feasible because Cathal played ten minutes at the end of the Cork game?

“Is that really about player welfare? The lads haven’t been with the seniors at all the last two weeks. They are on top of it but the rule is there. It is ridiculous.” 

Promising for the future, but what of the present? Browne was in a senior team that saw the U21s win an All-Ireland crown. He knows precisely what that does to a group. 

“It was a big boost around the place for those lads while anyone on the panel who might be getting a bit complacent got a kick up the arse because there was real quality coming behind them.” 

Another kick for this already dominant Limerick juggernaut? Scary prospect.

The oneills.com GAA Hurling All-Ireland U20 championship final between Limerick vs Kilkenny is live on TG4 with throw-in at 1.30pm. 

About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

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