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Opinion: Limerick made hurling progress in 2014 but this defeat is going to hurt

Limerick suffered more heartbreak yesterday after a season where they did develop.
Aug 11th 2014, 9:30 PM 10,950 20

Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

WHERE DOES IT rank in their pantheon of heartbreaking Croke Park defeats?

Since their day of glory in 1973, Limerick have known their share of hard hurling days at headquarters. From the shock at Offaly’s comeback in 1994, being pipped by Wexford at the final hurdle in 1996 and the collapse against Clare last August, they have endured a world of pain.

Yesterday’s loss to Kilkenny is fresh in the memory and will linger for a while. Limerick were excellent and didn’t flat-line in comparison to twelve months ago but the outcome was the same.

Anthony Daly argued on Newstalk yesterday that the shame in not performing is tougher to take than the pain of defeat. He offered a contrast between his Dublin side’s meek 2014 exit a fortnight ago and Limerick’s heroic departure yesterday.

There is value to that view but it won’t soothe the pain Limerick are currently feeling. Seamus Hickey’s emotive interview on The Sunday Game last night provided persuasive evidence and scan your eye over the tweets of David Breen and Wayne McNamara to harden that line of thinking.

TJ Ryan spoke afterwards of the ‘exceptionally disappointed dressing-room’ that he left behind him before meeting the media. ‘The bottom line is we lost’, reasoned Ryan. This defeat is gutting irrespective of the fact that it came from a magnificent and wholehearted display.

Limerick’s rising development continues though. The county looked on the brink of more hurling chaos after a managerial departure and a failed league promotion bid at the close of the spring. That they engineered a summer revival was a testament to the squad and management, while also reflective of the changed attitude that they have introduced.

For the fourth successive year they were part of the last six teams left in the championship and for the second successive year they reached the final four. In 2014 the semi-final stage did not overawe them and they didn’t malfunction, proof that the lessons of that Clare meltdown were absorbed. Limerick enjoyed the sensation of a senior hurling championship win in Thurles for the first time since 1973 and the experience of a landslide win when they crushed Wexford.

Their ambitions extended beyond that though. They wanted to reach the milestone of contesting an All-Ireland final and could point to the example of Dublin this year as evidence that a team who performs valiantly when losing a semi-final, does not necessarily bound on to bigger and better things the following season.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Yesterday was a terrific chance for Limerick to prolong their campaign until September. They were no glaring mistakes in their play. They were floored by the concession of goals at vital times and hamstrung by an ability to pierce the net at the other end.

There was shades of their Munster final loss about it, just as Seamus Harnedy’s goal that day broke the game open, Richie Power’s strike yesterday had similarly huge ramifications. Did Limerick progress in 2014 from 2013? It depends on your perspective. Last year saw silverware, this year saw a high-level display in their final outing.

Limerick hurlers can point to individual progress. Shane Dowling went from a substitute role to spearheading the attack and firing 4-36 in four games. Declan Hannon endured personal torment last year against Clare but looked older and wiser as he weighed in with five splendid points yesterday.

A dejected Declan Hannon Declan Hannon sparkled yesterday for Limerick. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Seamus Hickey recovered from a cruciate injury to now look nailed on for an Allstar. Richie McCarthy will challenge strongly to win a second successive such award. Paul Browne and David Breen enjoyed consistent summers. On the line TJ Ryan did plenty right in his debut management season.

On a wider scale, it’s been a year where Limerick won another Munster minor hurling crown and Ardscoil Rís won another Dr Harty Cup title. Next Sunday’s All-Ireland minor semi-final against Galway is a big game for the county. A win would be a huge fillip for a team that contains a few brilliant emerging talents in Ronan Lynch, Tom Morrissey and Cian Lynch.

Limerick captain Cian Lynch celebrates with the team after winning the Munster GAA Hurling Minor Championship trophy Cian Lynch celebrates with the Limerick minor team in last month. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

They’re all bright portents for Limerick’s hurling future. Of the 18 players that saw action yesterday, only two – Donal O’Grady and Niall Moran – will be over 30 when they begin their 2015 season. The team is young, they’ll desperately want to escape from Division 1B and can match anyone in the Munster hurling minefield.

But that’s for next year and right now the feeling engulfing their camp will be raw. ‘That’s hurling, that’s sport, that’s life’, reasoned TJ Ryan as he tried to make sense of yesterday’s bitter disappointment. In time he and the players will know they made progress but the nature of the two-point defeat means this one is going to hurt.

John Gardiner column – Epic battle in rain leaves Limerick heartbroken as Kilkenny survive

Anthony Daly – Pain of defeat easier than the shame of not performing

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Fintan O'Toole

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