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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019

'It does mean an awful lot' - Limerick savouring a first football victory in Munster in seven years

Goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan on the impact of Saturday’s win over Tipperary.

Limerick goalkeeper Donal O'Sullivan celebrates victory with team-mate Padraig De Brún.
Limerick goalkeeper Donal O'Sullivan celebrates victory with team-mate Padraig De Brún.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THE LIMERICK FOOTBALLERS gathered to toast an overdue championship win on Saturday night and as the celebrations spilled over into yesterday, a knock-on effect of their success in Munster over Tipperary dawned on a few of them.

They’ve propelled themselves into a semi-final date against Cork on 1 June.

Throw-in is 7pm and there’s the matter of a Champions League decider an hour later on that sporting Saturday which is of considerable interest to a bulk of their squad.  

Still it’s a welcome complaint. This is a fixtures clash they will gladly cope with.

“We’d a good day yesterday watching the Liverpool game and watching the two hurling games,” reflects Limerick goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan.

“We’ve a few huge Liverpool fans in the squad, they were heartbroken now.

“They’ve the Champions League now to look forward to but there was mention of that clash after the Tipp game. I’m actually a Spurs supporter so it’s pretty novel to be in a Champions League final. It’s a clash but a good thing to be complaining about.

“It was a great weekend, we were enjoying each other’s company and having the craic. Everyone was out Saturday night, there’s a real good bond there in the squad.”

It was a result that can’t be dressed up as a mild surprise, this was a genuine upset, the first to register a tremor on the 2019 landscape.

Paul Maher celebrates with Tommie Childs after the game Limerick's Paul Maher celebrates with Tommie Childs after the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Limerick have been ploughing away in the Munster championship without the glimmer of hope that a win would generate since 2012.

Their qualifier record stood at four wins (Longford, London and Antrim twice) and seven defeats in that time frame. They were coming off a league run that saw them finish up second from bottom with two wins from seven games. Their most recent championship outing was an 18-point pummelling at the hands of Mayo last June.

Away to Tipperary, a member of the last four in the country in 2016 and operating in the second tier of the league this year, it looked a tough task.

Amidst that backdrop the victory was elevated and O’Sullivan is conscious of those that coaxed the result out of them. As goalkeeper he has developed a natural rapport with Seamus O’Donnell, current selector and former netminder. A health scare for O’Donnell during the league meant this win resonated even more for a hugely popular figure in their setup.

“He had a heart attack after the Wexford game in the league, that night and had emergency stenting in UHL. He’d be slagging us that we caused it because we missed a late free in that game! He’s given us fierce stick. A bit of black humour, that’d be Seamie down to a tee.

“He’s a good friend of mine, he’s great craic now. The big topic after the game was what shirt was he going to wear because he’d brought three and they were all awful shirts. Those festival shirts that you’d pick up, that kind of vintage.

“He’s a big personality. When things mightn’t go well on a results basis, he’d lift the spirits. The majority of lads would be in college, so you’d kind of be hearing about what’s going on in college. He’d be driving that.

“It meant a lot for them (the management) so it was nice that they got rewards. Their dedication and love for it is unreal. Billy (Lee), Begs (Brian Begley) and Seamie O’Donnell, they have really been driving it.”

At the helm of the Limerick footballers does not stand out as a glamorous management gig but Billy Lee’s input draws rave reviews.

“For Billy he’s constantly talking about leaving the job in a better position for the next manager if that makes sense. It’s very tough for him. To be fair to Billy he’s looking at the medium term to develop standards and get as many people playing. Billy very much has Limerick football as his first primary concern.

“He’s said openly this is his job, he’s not looking to go on to another county or anything. He could be involved in club teams but he really does have Limerick football at heart. He reminds me what I imagine Billy Morgan would be like down in UCC in Cork, he’d be that kind of figure and lads do buy into it. He’s very passionate.”

Billy Lee reacts to his side's third goal Limerick boss Billy Lee. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

O’Sullivan has been on the Limerick panel since 2011. The 28-year-old was the oldest player on their starting fifteen on Saturday and has stockpiled plenty of experience. He’s joint captain with Iain Corbett, the pair of them along with Seamus O’Carroll and Darragh Treacy the only current figures who had tasted that previous Munster win in 2012.

Accustomed to setbacks, he felt good beforehand after the work they had done of late to iron out some kinks. 

“To lose five on the bounce in the league was very poor but performances were okay. There was a sitdown about a month ago that lifted things, we looked at our standards and improved a few things just from a tactical and mental point of view.”

They honed in on their attacking interplay and posting 3-11 on the board at Semple Stadium was proof of the impact of their efforts. They had a player in their ranks as well who has thrived at the Thurles venue in recent years, Ronan Lynch succeeding in hurling with Limerick U21 and Na Piarsaigh club teams.

“Between injuries and his first year playing senior inter-county football, he’s been kind of coming off the bench. He wasn’t 100% fit the last day but he spoke before the game very well.

“Obviously he’s delivered in Thurles and his words were quite well received. I think there was a level of expectation and control before the game then.”

The outpouring of emotion at the final whistle reflected what the outcome meant to the Limerick players after being beaten down in the Munster rankings.

“It was unreal. For a lot of us we don’t have a huge wealth of experience of winning big championship games so it did mean a lot. Tipp are a very good team. To get a result was massive, it was very important for Limerick football.”

And there is a natural layer of personal satisfaction. Off the pitch O’Sullivan is a doctor based in Galway. Juggling that with life on the senior county football treadmill is not straightforward.

“Dr Niamh Kieran and Dr Dave Gallagher, where I work in the Acute Medical Unit in Galway, they’ve been unbelievably accommodating when it comes to getting off for training and arranging call and everything. It is a big commitment but anyone that’s doing it, it’s basically just like an all-entailing hobby.

“When I started I was involved in the panel at the tail end of that very strong Limerick team. It does get a bit of draining if there’s loss after loss. It has been difficult.

“My family are coming to games and we’ve lost a lot more than we’ve won so it was a great day out for them on Saturday. It’s nice to have a bit of reward between the individual effort and the amount of hours put in.”

Iain Corbett celebrates at the final whistle with Stephen Keeley Limerick's Iain Corbett celebrates at the final whistle with Stephen Keeley Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The post-mortems after these early encounters in the championship invariably seem to revolve around the future direction for Gaelic football and to what extent it needs to be overhauled. O’Sullivan accepts the debate and is broadly in agreement with the chorus for change but there is another aspect of the analysis which grates with him.

“In my opinion I do feel we need a two-tiered championship. I think it’s well said but the league is the best competition the GAA has. It’s competitive, there’s clear promotion and relegation. 

“But the other issue then is I find whenever we’re discussing a Division 3 or 4 team winning, the conversation kind of goes straight to the tiered championship. I just think it needs to be addressed for the football to come back to the front. I won’t call it lazy punditry but you take something like The GAA Hour podcast it’s good coverage as it’s about the football while elsewhere over the years when there’s analysis, it goes immediately to a tiered championship.

“I don’t know what the average GAA punter thinks but to me it’s a bit of a boring non issue at the minute. It just needs to be addressed and then get back to the football. We had two or three lads on Saturday who had unreal games and they deserve a bit of profile rather than just another rehashed debate about a structure that we know is not 100% working.

“You take Saturday night, Billy (Lee) and Liam (Kearns) were both involved in the very good Limerick team in the mid 2000s. That was an interesting subplot. Paudie (Kissane, Tipperary coach) was over us for two years so we’d to address things tactically. If I was watching the Sunday Game that’s the stuff that would interest me rather than the same debate if that makes sense.”

Limerick can detach themselves from that conversation for now and train their sights on a bid to reach a Munster final. Defeating Tipperary was a seismic win they will appreciate.

“There has been a lot of difficulties and that’s why Saturday is so important because you do feel at times you’re fighting against the tide.

“There’s a lot of external issues that make things difficult but then to get a bit of a reward, it does mean an awful lot to the lads that are there. We’ve a Munster semi-final to prepare for now.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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