Did they hear this on the far side of the world? Feel a tremble beneath their feet? They surely must have.
An exhausted sky wept with guilt that there had to be a loser in Thurles, the most elemental game in God’s creation delivering Limerick up the steps of the Ryan Stand to be inaugural recipients of the Mick Mackey Cup.
A Munster four-in-a-row delivered then, essentially, by the width of a communion wafer.
Hurling – we were reminded here – is an ancient language best expressed with emotional ferocity and, yes, aggression that tiptoes along the line between fury and abandon. Chasing a first Munster senior crown in just short of quarter of a century, Clare acquitted themselves wonderfully. Just not quite wonderfully enough to shake off extraordinary champions.
In a game shrugging off the very concept of structure – 90 minutes of madness that defied containment or, frankly, explanation – Limerick prevailed. How? By something as simple as a refusal to die.
Hunger becomes an almost technical term on days like this, but – honestly – nothing mattered more here.
Funny, two years ago these counties met in the same place and it felt nothing in the oddly dystopian atmosphere of an empty stadium. Great championship games feed off great gatherings and so this, above all, felt a story of belonging.
John Kiely baulked at the use of ‘war’ as a description of what we’d witnessed and, given the world we live in, that was wise.
The cloak of euphemism works better in any event, concealing our struggles to make language even relevant in this domain.
Because this was operatically wild, a seething epic in the teeming rain that could never be captured by the banality of a scoreline.
And it concluded, cruelly, with Tony Kelly standing – helmet in hand – beneath the Ryan Stand, his day ended by a rolled ankle.
Clare’s opponents have long cursed the day Kelly was handed a hurley. Did nobody think of a jigsaw puzzle or chemistry set?
To be fair, the pain of immediate victimhood is supplanted in all other places by the sheer privilege of seeing a superstar work his magic. In the way great actors dominate the stage, Kelly threatened at times to take private ownership of this game.
Fittingly, it was his nerveless linecut at the town-end that took it to extra-time, two teams now swinging windmills into dusk like exhausted prize-fighters.
And the field, slicked up by that incessant rain, had the treachery of a loaded blackjack table.
It made a scoundrel of the sliotar, any ball going to ground effectively acquiring sociopathic tendencies. And the hits, did we mention the hits?
Referee, John Keenan, let the first 120 seconds go off like a Catherine Wheel before awarding a free to ironic cheers. His whistle, it was clear, would not be intruding needlessly.
Maybe that’s a conceit of our game that the best hurling tends to flow only through light-touch mediation. But that’s, essentially, what happened here. Loosely bound, the game ran to a monumental heat.
It was the bull-run of Pamplona compared to that relatively genteel business of Croke Park on Saturday night, a suspicion hardening that Munster and Leinster hurling have little in common these days beyond the equipment.
With Kelly finding murderous corridors of space down the Kinane side, Clare got to the 27th minute three points clear and looking as if they’d begun navigating their way under the champions’ skin.
But then Gearóid Hegarty fired a goal for the ages, taking a ball in traffic from Tom Morrissey and zig-zagging his way beyond the Banner cover – ball balanced as if glued to the bás of his hurley – until a sublime, looped parabola over Diarmuid Ryan’s head put him in position to beat Eibhear Quilligan with a sniper’s finish off his left.
That, there and then, was the moment Limerick cleared their throats.
Séamus Flanagan became engaged in what felt a personal shootout with Kelly, the Limerick man finishing with a stunning 0-8 for his day. And, given Conor Cleary’s broadly successful marshalling of Aaron Gillane, every last one would be sorely needed.
Yet, let it be said that Gillane did pitch in too with two late, over-the-shoulder Killinan-end scores approaching the end of normal time that threatened to break Clare.
Hence the requirement for Kelly’s remarkable linecut with the last puck of those 70 minutes, sending both teams galloping (and jostling) into the dressing-room tunnel, nothing yet settled.
For Kiely, what followed felt nothing less than epochal.
“It felt phenomenal because the challenge we had to overcome was immense,” he said when it was over. “We were struggling, struggling with restarts, struggling with general play. We just had to keep going.
“Munster final day is a great day, but today is a particularly great one for us now, I have to say. Because that was seriously tough going.”
And a decent chance they might meet again?
“I have no doubt in the world!” he smiled.