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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 29 November 2020

A trophy for Limerick in strange times, league leaders after struggle and scoring stars shine

A league final win and success in Munster opener sets Limerick up for next Sunday’s clash with Tipperary.

Cian Lynch and his Limerick team-mates celebrate after the game.
Cian Lynch and his Limerick team-mates celebrate after the game.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT MUST HAVE been the most curious trophy presentation of Declan Hannon’s hurling career.

The Adare man has become accustomed of late to lifting silverware – the All-Ireland success in August 2018, the league victory in March 2019, the Munster triumph in June 2019.

Yet an October Sunday evening with winter drawing near in a stadium devoid of fans made for a surreal experience as he stepped onto the winner’s podium.

Hannon was directed by GAA Trustee John Costigan to lift the cup in the Ardán Ó Riáin. He thrust into the air, a brief cheer by the Limerick players scattered on the pitch puncturing the strange silence during the presentation, thanked Costigan and walked down the steps as he elected to sidestep the usual speech delivered in these instances.

It was exactly nine months since Limerick had began their 2020 league journey at the same venue. They defeated Tipperary by two points that night and had ten points to spare in the win over Clare 274 days later that officially marked the close of that campaign. It marks the oddest of league successes, stripped of any sense of celebration and lessened in significance when all eyes were on the Munster championship opener that the fixture doubled up as and the meeting with Tipperary now lies in store next Sunday.

And yet John Kiely did not skip quickly over the issue afterwards. He took time to reflect on it. Limerick’s accumulation of trophies has become relentless under his watch, this the fourth major honour attained in 26 months.

It was the first time since 1985 the county had retained the league title but they only won it twice in the 34 years before 2019. 

As recently as 2018 they were still scrapping to escape from Division 1B. The last round win over Galway that spring catapulted them to the top flight of spring and they have not looked back since.

There are still players on this team who can recall the previous struggles. In Hannon’s first senior season, when he was a Leaving Cert student, Limerick won a rip-roaring final against Clare in Ennis but the competition was subsequently restructured the following year. They lose a final to Dublin by a point in Thurles in 2013 and slipped up on a couple of costly occasions against Offaly in other seasons. 

declan-hannon-lifts-the-league-trophy Declan Hannon lifts the league trophy for Limerick in Thurles Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I am glad that we actually saw out the deal and took that league title,” outlined Kiely.

“We spent nine years in 1B, languishing and blaming everything and anything bar the fact that we just couldn’t get out of there.

“We went back mid November and we worked very, very hard pre Christmas and got a good start in the league then subsequently. We had a very good strong January, February, into early March.

“We’ve always put a lot of stead on that league since we came together as a group and for us to win back to back titles is a significant achievement nonetheless regardless of the manner in which it finished. It’s still going to be Limerick 2019, Limerick 2020 and that’s all that really matters isn’t it?”

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If that’s a sign of the winning mentality that Kiely has built up in this Limerick setup, then the sheer scoring power they demonstrated yesterday is an illustration of how they continue to achieve it.

They amassed 0-36, the highest number of white flags recorded during Kiely’s time at the helm in what was his 17th championship game in charge. Only twice before have Limerick registered a bigger total, both recorded in 2018 with 5-22 against Carlow and 3-32 against Cork. The caveat for the latter is that it went to extra-time and they had shot 1-27 in normal time.

Yesterday’s total showed Limerick’s capacity to hurt teams on the board. If Aaron Gillane is regarded as their marquee marksman, he only struck two of the 26 points the team scored from play. It demonstrated how there is no reliance on a single figure. Diarmaid Byrnes can pop over three from wing-back, figures matched by Kyle Hayes and Peter Casey further up the pitch.

Tom Morrissey went one better in the half-forward line, Gearoid Hegarty on the opposite wing was their top scorer from play with five. It’s a dizzying prospect for opponents to stifle that variety of attacking threats.

In a wider sense the game was a sign of scoring rates exploding over the weekend. Limerick and Clare combined for 60 scores, up from the 42 they notched in 2019. Dublin and Laois shot 56 scores between them on Saturday night versus the 46 they put on the board last summer.

It’s a small sample size but it does point to a shift in scoring patterns. In an era of no crowds the atmosphere created permits players to relax more and perform without the weight of pressure that a boisterous crowd can instil.

Kiely pinpointed another trend at play.

john-kiely Limerick hurling boss John Kiely

“I don’t know, trends will emerge, maybe after a few weeks we’ll see what’s happening but Saturday night’s game was a bit open as well and high scoring, today was open and high scoring.

“I think the puckouts are an issue because they are coming very fast, maybe in a stadium where the thing is full maybe the referees need to buy themselves a little bit more time themselves in that circumstance before they blow the whistle.

“Whereas here they can scan and see and take everything in much easier as a referee – so as a result I think the puckout comes faster.

“Now I know he blew Clare up for quick puckouts at some stage but they were very, very quick, he hadn’t any whistle blown.

“So I just think we’re going to end up with the ball in play a lot longer in the course of the game and an awful lot quicker resets, that’s one thing I think we’re going to see. Maybe another couple of games will give us a bit of a trend as to what might be there.

“But if you look at all the other sports, soccer in particular, I think the scoring has gone up in those sports as well in terms of the amount of scores being converted so maybe that’s going to be a trend in hurling that you’ll see more scores converted as well. Maybe there’s less pressure on the player in an environment like it is here with nobody here.”

Next weekend will tell more with four provincial semi-finals down for debate. Limerick head to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a Munster battle with Tipperary.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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