COMMENT: What did we learn from Limerick's All-Ireland final win?

July 20th, 2022 11:39 AM

By Tom Lyons

Cork goalkeeper Patrick Collins under pressure from Limerick duo Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes during a Munster SHC clash at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. (Photo: George Hatchell).

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AM I in a minority of one in thinking that the first half of the hurling final on Sunday last was one of the most boring we have seen in a final in a long time?

Yes, a hurling game did break out in the second half and we were treated to a thrilling contest as Kilkenny showed true grit and Limerick proved they still have no equals on the present hurling field.

But that first half, what did we witness? An exhibition of point scoring from both sides with very little hurling being played in between.

34 scores in just over 35 minutes, almost a score per minute. While some might consider that exciting, the busiest people in Croke Park were the two goalkeepers pucking out the ball and the two umpires raising white flags.

Where was the defending, the clashes for possession, the blocking, hooking and tackling that brings real excitement to hurling?

Ground hurling?

Two or three pucks of the ball and the white flag was waving at one end of the pitch, then at the other end. Boring and soul-destroying. I was almost tempted to turn over to the golf but, unfortunately, my faith in Rory McIlroy to produce a winning score in the final round of a major has long been extinguished and I just couldn’t bear to watch his downfall on this occasion.

Thankfully, the hurling match took off in the second half, mainly because the Kilkenny full back line really began to hurl, keeping their side in the game.

Limerick had to pull out all the stops to keep Cody’s charges off the rostrum.

When played like this, hurling is a game for the ages and we could watch it all day long, but when it turns into an uncontested shoot-out as in the first half, we long for the good old days of whipping ground hurling, overhead clashes, heavier sliotars that didn’t travel most of the pitch with a flick of the wrist.

Nostalgia rarely is the answer to anything so we try to stay positive about our native game and, thankfully, the second half helped to maintain our faith for another while.

At least we didn’t have to watch a surplus of short hand-passing that has blighted Cork hurling in recent years and which has us cringing as we try to watch modern Gaelic football.

At half time we came to the conclusion that the hurling pitch is now too small for modern hurling because of the light, aero-dynamic sliotar, the better hurleys and the amazing conditioning of the players.

Just like pro golfers demolishing old courses. Solutions?

A heavier sliotar and a smaller scoring area, plus awarding five points for a goal. Then we might keep the sliotar in play longer than thirty seconds as is  now the norm.

So what have we learned from Limerick’s win on Sunday last?

Firstly, that mid-July is not the time to be playing All-Ireland finals. Yes, we were weaned and reared on September finals and it is hard to break with tradition.

As teachers, we were able to build many lesson plans on the finals in September, history, geography, English, Irish, maths, PE, all were built around the two big days.

Now, the schools are closed for the big day, what a pity. While agreeing completely that clubs must be properly catered for, is this early finish to the inter-county championships falling into the hands of other sports? We would want to keep a careful eye on this split season, as presently laid out.

Secondly, are Gaelic games heading down the same road as rugby where the good big guy is much favoured over the good small guy?

Limerick’s size and physicality is the cornerstone of their supremacy, just as it was with Cork footballers when they won their last All-Ireland back in 2010. But Limerick are much more than just size and physicality.

Their core strength and conditioning is simply amazing and has carried them over the line in a number of close clashes this year. Add in the high skill level s of all their players and this Limerick team is the complete package, winning games even when short star players or not playing to their maximum.

To beat Limerick as they consider a record-equalling four in a row in 2023, other counties will have to match them in all the above characteristics, not easily done.

This is a once in a life-time team of hurlers and like the Kilkenny team of Cody’s prime years, they will eventually succumb to time or a lessening of the appetite needed to win.

The question to be asked is where did this team come from and the answer is to be found at schools’ level when Limerick’s Ardscoil Rís dominated the Harty Cup.

Those successes led to U21 successes and now senior. Add in the influence of the underage academy and the financial backing of JP McManus you have a path to success that should be followed by other counties.

Here in Cork, much more emphasis is put on development squads rather than on second level schools. This must be changed.

Despite the debt on Páirc Uí Chaoimh, there is no reason why a county as big and as affluent as Cork should be found wanting on the financial front.

Of course, it helps when you have a manager like John Kiely in charge, plus a top class management team, and hopefully Pat Ryan will become the answer to Kiely, Cody and Lohan over the next few seasons.

What Ryan must learn from Kiely is that winning the league means nothing. Where were Waterford, the league champions, on Sunday last and how seriously did Limerick take the league?

Finding and blooding new players should be the target in the league, not winning the competition.

2022 proved that either other counties are getting closer to Limerick or this Limerick team is already on the slide. Winning the four in-a-row is a huge target for them now but also a real challenge for other teams to stop them.

We are looking forward to the 2023 season already provided the great game of hurling doesn’t become just an exhibition of score-getting as almost happened on Sunday last.

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