Croker can be good omen for Limerick -- Buckley
WITH all the hype surrounding Waterford's run to today's historic Division 4 NFL final, opponents Limerick have been able to completely sneak in under the radar.
The fact that the county's hurlers have also dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons has helped take the pressure off them, yet it doesn't feel like that to Seanie Buckley & Co.
Last year's beaten Munster football finalists felt like marked men in the lowest division after their surprise relegation in 2009.
"Everyone was talking us up and gunning for us, it felt like we were the scalp everyone else wanted so it was a tough league," Buckley said.
"There's always a danger when you're in the bottom division, that the longer you're there the harder it will be to get out, so our priority definitely was getting out of it as soon as possible."
There are many who will argue that Mickey Ned O'Sullivan's side should never have ended up there.
Seven years ago, during Liam Kearns' reign, they contested a Division 2 NFL final in Croke Park when six of their current players -- Mark O'Riordan, Conor Mullane, John Galvin, Stephen Lavin, Stephen Kelly and Conor Fitzgerald -- were part of the team that were pipped by a late Westmeath goal.
Many of them contested back-to-back Munster U-21 finals in 2000-'01 and lost the 2000 All-Ireland U-21 final to a Tyrone team of future household names.
And there were also Munster senior final appearances in '03 and '04, when they famously lost to Kerry in a replay.
So, how did they end up in football's bargain basement? "We were unlucky enough in the league last year," Buckley said. "We won three games which would normally be enough to survive, but a few teams ended up together and we went down on points difference."
Given their heart-breaking defeat by Cork last summer and, arguably, an equally unlucky defeat by Meath in the All-Ireland qualifiers, was it not particularly difficult to lift themselves again this season?
"No, I don't think we carried over any disappointments from last year. It was a new year, we had no time to feel sorry with ourselves, we just had to get on with it," he said.
A one-point defeat of Clare in the penultimate round this year galvanised their season. The only team to beat them was, notably, today's opponents Waterford, who pipped them by a point in the Gaelic Grounds.
The other league game Limerick failed to win was a draw with Wicklow in Aughrim when they only had 19 fit players.
Injuries to the likes of Ian Ryan and the dual commitments of John Galvin (basketball) and Stephen Kelly (rugby) have affected their strength intermittently, but they are much closer to full strength today.
Come the final round, when they defeated Leitrim, they were in a three-way tussle with Clare and Waterford for the two promotion places and all three, coincidentally, are on the same side of the draw to decide one of the Munster final places this summer.
Limerick will face the winners of the other two in early June, so does this mean that today's game could be something of a phoney war?
"Absolutely not," Buckley said. "There are very few footballers in Limerick with an All-Ireland medal of any type, so we have no right to look down on a Division 4 medal.
"This is a league final, there's a title there to be won and we'll definitely be going all out to win it, you couldn't take any other attitude."
He was only a spectator when Limerick contested that last league final in '03 and though they lost, he still has some good memories of it.
"There was a great buzz around Limerick football at the time and a couple of weeks later we went to Cork and got a big (10-point) win, so here's hoping our return to Croke Park is a good omen for the summer," he added.