Like one of those warnings at the end of an advertisement selling a particular financial product or policy that it could rise or fall, you advise the same caution after a night like this.
Limerick know how All-Ireland u-21 success can leave you feeling like the victim of a pyramid scheme.
The exchange rate to senior level isn’t always what it should be. Kilkenny haven’t been champions since 2008; that alone should bring sobriety to any future prognosis in Limerick. Thus manager John Kiely’s appeal for people to be “realistic.”
This just feels a little different however. The performance was so good, so complete that it would take quite a turn in the path of their careers for this team not produce a strong senior spine in years to come. All they missed was a goal and, if they really focused on that, they’d surely have scored one too.
Their response to Wexford’s only goal, a blistering 25-metre drive from Conor McDonald in the 51st minute to reduce the gap to seven points (0-17 to 1-7) said everything about them. They reeled off the next nine points unanswered as if it was an exhibition they were engaged in, not the threat of an All-Ireland title being suddenly ripped from their grasp.
By the end thousands hugged the Semple Stadium sidelines in anticipation of a celebration. They love their pitch invasions in Limerick. It was their fifth win from five U-21 finals. By contrast, Wexford were losing a 10th since their only success in 1965.
From an early stage it was evident that there would be no apt 50th anniversary celebration. They were outgunned, outfought and just about every other ‘out’ you can think of. Their manager JJ Doyle acknowledged as much.
“In any aspect of the performance, we weren’t good enough. It is very hard to analyse it at this but these guys will have to come back from it. They can’t let this be the defining moment of their careers,” he said.
Two of the first three players hauled ashore were senior squad members, McDonald was on the margins all night and only two players scored a point each from play.
That was a testament to the brilliance of the Limerick defence. Their forwards, from Barry Nash to Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey, oozed class and confidence in everything they did.
To score 26 points in a 60-minute match was significant. But it was pillars of steel behind them that made it possible.
Each member of their half-back line – captain Diarmuid Byrnes, Barry O’Connell and Gearoid Hegarty – stands at least 6’2” or over and they made it count. In their slipstream Sean Finn and Michael Casey also made important and uplifting interventions. It was hard to recall them losing too many battles that mattered.
“I thought Wexford were going to bring something to the game that I hadn’t seen from the other teams, in terms of their aerial ability and the directness of their play and the number of high balls they send into the opposition’s defence,” said Kiely.
“You need to be very resolute, very good in the air and, let’s face it, Limerick teams wouldn’t be noted for their prowess in the air in recent years. We’ve focused on that for the last number of weeks, that we were going to stand up and we were going to catch ball.”
Their midfielders Darragh O’Donovan and especially Pat Ryan ran the show, their opposite numbers Conor Devitt and Tony French both gone by the 41st minute.
Ryan scored three points and O’Donovan typified his work by getting back in the 20th minute to hook Andrew Kenny who was bearing down on goals. Hegarty scrambled to win a free as play developed and the roar from the 18,544 at such defiance was deafening.
For almost 17 minutes Wexford went without any score in that half as Limerick built a 0-8 to 0-2 lead.
It should have been more, referee Johnny Ryan calling back a free instead of giving advantage after Ronan Lynch had snapped a rebound home after Oliver O’Leary had saved from David Dempsey who had been fouled by Jim White in the lead-up.
Wexford were bursting at the seams from the pressure at that stage with further goal threats being scrambled clear. At least Ryan was consistent with his non-application of advantage, pulling up Wexford in similar fashion at the other end after Cathal Dunbar had goaled following a foul on Kevin Foley. If anything, that should have been a penalty.
Limerick hit the next three points before half-time with Cian Lynch scoring the middle one with a scintillating run from deep that had the mark of his uncle Ciarán Carey about it. Nash added a fourth point of the night after that and a 0-11 to 0-4 interval lead put them in a very strong position.
Wexford could post no real resistance. Pádraig Foley was their most consistent player while Liam Ryan performed a few heroic second-half deeds to prevent further damage. But they were taking in water everywhere and, in truth, even if they had produced their best, it probably wouldn’t have been enough.
Doyle conceded that it took from their third successive Leinster Championship win nine weeks earlier on the premise that you are only as good as your last game. Their captain Eoin Conroy admitted that provincial championship, even a match against Kilkenny hadn’t prepared them.
“We got the fright of our lives when Limerick brought that intensity to the game. We hadn’t seen anything like it. Maybe the standard in Leinster and the standard of Antrim wasn’t enough for us to prepare for a final,” he said.
With 11 of the starting team eligible for U-21 again, Kiely admitted the future is bright, but far from being gold-tinted either. The trio of titles from 2000 to 2002 which yielded so little is not that distant in the memory.
“People need to get real,” he warned. “People need to give these guys and the people who will be over them time to manage them, develop them, allow them to get into the gym for two to three to four years and to put on the necessary condition that you require to take on Kilkenny and Galway.
“They are a good deal ahead of us. It’s not realistic to expect these lads to move en masse to a senior set-up and perform and take on senior teams next year. That’s not possible.”
scorers – Limerick: R Lynch 0-6 (5fs), B Nash 0-5, T Morrissey 0-4, P Ryan, C Lynch, P Casey (0-1 pen) 0-3 each, D Byrnes (1f) 0-2.
Wexford: C McDonald 1-4 (3fs, 0-1 sl), P Foley (f), C Dunbar, A Kenny all 0-1 each.
Limerick – D McCarthy; S Finn, R English, M Casey; D Byrnes, B O’Connell, G Hegarty; D O’Donovan, P Ryan; B Nash, T Morrissey, D Dempsey; C Lynch, C Ryan, R Lynch. Subs: P Casey for C Ryan (49), A La Touche-Cosgrave for P Ryan (52), J Kelliher for R Lynch (54), M O’Callaghan for Finn (57), J Hannon for O’Donovan (58).
Wexford – O O’Leary; S Donoghue, L Ryan, E Conroy; J White, P Foley, J O’Connor; C Devitt, T French; A Kenny, K Foley, J Cash; C Dunbar, C McDonald, P Sutton. Subs: S Murphy for French (35), S Kenny for Devitt (43), S Kelly for K Foley (45), J Firman for Cash (47).
Ref – J Ryan (Tipperary)