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'I was marking Marc Ó Sé and I got a rude awakening when I got a right thump into the ribs'

Buoyed by their upset win over Tipperary, Seamus O’Carroll and Limerick face Cork tonight in the Munster SFC semi-final.

TWO WEEKS AGO, the Limerick footballers took the scalp of Tipperary to claim their first in Munster for seven years. 

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

It was a major result for Treaty boss Billy Lee, who revealed last year that 53 players had turned down his invitation to join the squad. Five debutants were handed out against the Premier and the youngsters richly rewarded their manager with a huge performance and, more importantly, result. 

Seamus O’Carroll is one of the veterans of the group, having made his debut back in 2010 under the bright lights of a Munster decider against Kerry. Things have changed a lot since then.

Going toe-to-toe with the Kingdom for provincial titles couldn’t have seemed further away as Limerick toiled in the backwaters for years. They won just one competitive game in 2018 and placed 31st out of the 32 teams in this year’s Allianz Football League, with only London finishing below them in Division 4.

But something stirred in the county with the free-scoring defeat of second tier side Tipperary.

“Everyone else didn’t expect it from us but quietly in our camp, not that we expected it but we knew if we performed that we’d be in with a shout,” O’Carroll tells The42.

It was just a build-up of emotions afterwards of supporters, management and players. We haven’t had a Munster championship win in so long, it was just great to get that monkey off the back.

“It’s a long time in fairness. There’s a lot of players involved with us that had never won a Munster championship game, it’s grand in the qualifiers and getting a win there but your provincial championship is where you want to be competitive first and foremost.”

When the forward first broke onto the county panel, he joined a talented crop of players that fell agonisingly short to Cork in the 2009 Munster final.

That Rebels team were a serious outfit and would deliver All-Ireland glory the following season. 

Bryan Sheehan and Seamus O'Carroll O'Carroll takes on Bryan Sheehan during the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Mickey Ned O’Sullivan handed the Garda his debut against the Kingdom nine years ago as the reigning All-Ireland champions just about thwarted Limerick’s latest summit attempt in the 2010 Munster final.

Led by All-Star John Galvin, who grabbed 1-2 from midfield, Limerick were chasing the game in the closing stages when a 20-year-old O’Carroll was thrown into the fray.

“It was only for the last two minutes that I came on but I remember we were down by three points at the time,” he recalls.

“Myself and Eoin O’Connor were brought on to try and get a goal just to try force the game into extra time or try sneak a win.

I remember I came on and I was marking Marc Ó Sé. I ended up getting a rude awakening to Munster championship and senior inter-county football when I got a right thump into the ribs as I made my first run.

“It was short-lived but it was lovely to have a full house in Killarney to make my debut in a Munster final. As a young fella coming on and making your debut you’re thinking, ‘This is great, this is what it’s going to be like going forward. This is what I’ve to look forward to.’

“But those days are few and far between in reality. It’s nice to have those memories though. The golden generation of Limerick footballers have all gone on since and it’s just that rebuilding process since.”

The Kerry and Limerick players walk behind the band The Kerry and Limerick players walk behind the band ahead of the 2010 Munster final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

O’Carroll is based in Rathmines and plays his club football alongside Ciaran Kilkenny with Castleknock. He opted out of the county set-up in 2015 and 2016, but has been an everpresent since Lee took charge.

The commute back to Limerick can be a pain, especially when results don’t go their way. 

“I’m here nearly three years. It’s tough but last Saturday week makes it bitter-sweet in a way,” he says.

“When you’re travelling down with that commitment for training and matches and not getting the wins, you kind of question yourself about why you’re putting yourself through that. The Tipperary win from a personal point of view makes it worthwhile. 

“With shift work, there’s no set patterns. You can plan around it alright but it is difficult. Especially then with the travelling.

“It wouldn’t be too bad if I was just based here and playing with Dublin or if I was down in Limerick playing with Limerick it would be a lot easier but unfortunately that’s not the case.

It is difficult but I’ve a unit here that are understanding and they’re more than happy to help me out whenever they can which is great. I’ve a sergeant who looks after me which is great.

“Without that support from work it wouldn’t be possible to travel down and give that commitment so it’s great to be able to do both. At the end of the day it is a hobby, playing football. The job pays wages, pays for rent so it’s good to know they give you the backing.”

Cian O’Sullivan and Seamus O’Carroll O'Carroll gets a shot away under pressure from Cian O’Sullivan in the 2018 Dublin SFC quarter-final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

A talented handball player in his youth, O’Carroll was forced to leave a trophy-laden career behind him due to a devastating shoulder injury. 

“Handball would have been my main focus on par with football going back through the years,” he admits. 

He won five world titles at underage level, including the U23 World Doubles title in 2012 and was regarded as one of the brightest young talents of his generation before he was forced to pack it in.

“I remember competing against Peter Duggan in colleges championships going down through the years. He said in an article recently that handball has really helped his hurling.

“Richie Hogan used to play when I was playing. A couple of inter-county hurlers have played, DJ (Carey) used to always say that he’d have been playing better hurling when he was playing handball because of his touch, his eye would have been in. It has its benefits for GAA lads.

“I would have played handball until 2014 when I got a bad shoulder injury and couldn’t play anymore. I kind of miss it at this stage. It was something I played since I was a young fella, since eight or nine years of age up to four or five years ago.

“I had to give it up. I was competing at senior level in world championships and it was just one of those things where it was a recurring injury and I’ve never been right since after it. It doesn’t affect me playing football too much but it affects me playing the handball.

Seamus O'Carroll in action against Gary McConnell Seamus O'Carroll in action during his handball career. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“It was a subacromial decompression. I had labral tears and the shoulder had to be reconstructed in Santry (Sports Clinic). I got that done in 2014.

“I’ve tried going back a couple of times since and in 2015 I got to the All-Ireland semi-final of the senior softball singles in Croke Park against Robbie McCarthy. He beat me well that day in fairness. He was the current champion at that time.

“I knew myself then that I wasn’t going to get back to anything near the level I wanted or needed to be at. It was a frustration more than anything else that I had to give it up due to the injuries.”

Thankfully for O’Carroll the shoulder problem hasn’t prevented him from playing football.

“It’s more of a swing that hinders me. It’s not too bad playing football so thankfully – I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t play either of the two of them,” he says.

Limerick face Cork in the last four of the province tonight. Kerry are expected to canter to another provincial title from the other side of the draw. Both Cork and Limerick are a long way off where they were when they contested the Munster final a decade ago.

Given Limerick houses the current All-Ireland hurling champions, the football squad are viewed by many as the poorer relation but O’Carroll refutes that idea.

“At the same time it’s great because we’re from a county where we still support the hurlers. We’d always go to their matches and we haven’t had a winning side in Limerick like that that won an All-Ireland in years.

“There’s a great buzz around the county and it’s great to have GAA being written about in such positive guise as well. We kind of feed off that because we’ve seen what they’ve done and the standards they’ve set and we’re just trying to go about our business as best we can.

Cillian Fahy scores a goal Limerick's Cillian Fahy scores a goal against Tipperary in the semi-final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“We’re still very well looked after, we’re nearly on par with the hurlers. We’re never found wanting for anything, which is great. The county board still do support everything to do with football.”

On a positive note, the famed academies that produced the current golden generation of hurling stars in Limerick have now been put in place for the big ball.

O’Carroll won’t be playing long enough to reap the rewards of the newly created underage football structures, but remains excited for the future of the code in the county.

“As an overall structure with football in the county it needed something like the academies that the hurlers have. They’ve started that now which is great because it’s just about bringing that forward.

“We had a great minor team this year and they’ve a good bunch of players coming through. The academies have started to work well for the county in that sense but it will be a while before you see that coming to fruition for the senior team.

“It bodes well for the future and at least you can leave the jersey knowing there are guys coming in that will be up to the task of stepping into an inter-county senior jersey in Limerick football-wise.”

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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