Limerick leader Buckley is ready to rise again
MICKEY NED O'SULLIVAN knows a thing or two about knock-out blows -- so he must have feared the worst for his Limerick side after last year.
Headed at the line by Cork in the Munster final and denied a place in the last eight of the All-Ireland series after Stephen Lucey was adjudged to have taken a step too many against Meath in the qualifiers, this Limerick team could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel.
For much of the last decade, they raged alone against the Cork-Kerry duopoly in Munster, appearing in three Munster finals since 2003. Last year's final defeat to Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh ranked alongside the '04 draw with Kerry as an opportunity lost and after that disappointment, it appeared as if they wouldn't get off the stool for another round.
But spring offered hope. Division 4 looked like a mountain they could scale and although they failed to impress in the decider against Waterford, they got the job done thanks to goalkeeper Brian Scanlon's late converted '45'. meaning they are clear favourites going into tomorrow's clash with the same opposition at Fraher Field.
"Last year was disappointing, of course it was, but we're big enough to get on with it," said team captain Seanie Buckley defiantly. "That's in the past now and we are looking ahead. Nobody is losing any sleep over it."
Limerick looked like a side that history weighed heavily on in Croke Park that chilly evening. Waterford were a team liberated from the 'worst in the country' tag they were routinely lumbered with and played with an admirable abandon. O'Sullivan's side looked like they were from a county that hadn't won a senior national title in this century -- or the one before it.
"There was more pressure on us to win that day than them," Buckley (25) agreed. "And we didn't play as well as we would have liked. Waterford were better for most of the game, but we got there and that was the important thing for us."
The Seamus Darby-esque hop on the final whistle from Mickey Ned conveyed what a trophy meant to this team, which has toiled for a decade with only a gallant losers tag to show for it. With a trophy in their cabinet, the pressure has eased a little and the panel looks stronger too.
Talented young hurler Ger Collins has had his head turned to the 'big ball' and he hit 1-6 in the league final; Lucey has recovered from a horrific hamstring injury to start at centre back, while the hugely under-rated Johnny McCarthy takes his place in the No 3 shirt and will try and put the shackles on Gary Hurney, who is expected to line out on the edge of the square for the Deise.
"The mix of experience and youth hasn't been as good as this before, " said Buckley, who is in his sixth season with the county side. Sometimes we have struggled for a bit of depth, but we have subs who can perform now.
"Waterford have a lot going for them going into this game. They have really come on and they pushed us all the way in the league final. The match is in Fraher Field, they'll have a big crowd and will be out for revenge after the final, so were expecting them to come out with all guns blazing. We'll just have to try and deal with it."