Sunday 17 December 2017

Limerick's perfect storm leaves Wexford dream in tatters

Limerick 0-26 Wexford 1-7

Limerick captain Diarmaid Byrnes lifts the cup after victory over Wexford
Limerick captain Diarmaid Byrnes lifts the cup after victory over Wexford
Limerick's Michael Casey in action against Wexford's Cathal Dunbar

Damian Lawlor

We've been saying it all year that the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 championship has completely upstaged its senior equivalent and while only one team showed up for last night's showpiece at Thurles, the general theory still stands.

Under 21 teams are simply coached to go for it and that's what John Kiely's Limerick did right from the off with a blistering display of potency and ferocity blended with subtlety and skill. There isn't complete abandon or anything like it, but the hurling is crisp, attractive and open. The crowds love it as seen by the wave of green that invaded Semple last night.

In this code, sweepers are for the groundstaff and blankets only for the cold-blooded supporter. Last night, the two best underage teams in the land locked horns, both sides unchanged from their respective semis. From the first whistle Limerick raged the perfect storm and Wexford were left stumbling in the tempest in front of 18,544. While Limerick were powered up, Wexford looked leg-weary. And just as the sliotar stuck to the hurls of the Munster men it bounced off the sticks of the young Leinster bucks who chose last night to produce their only real blemished display of the season.

Still, the game was attractive to watch, and the displays of Richie English, Pat Ryan, Barry Nash, Ronan Lynch and Tom Morrissey were a sight to behold as Limerick banished the heartbreak of minor level over the past two seasons.

The irony is that respective senior stars, Limerick's Cian Lynch and Wexford's Conor McDonald, who had amassed 2-34 in this year's championship, were largely quiet in the battle for the Cross of Cashel which would be presented for the very last time. McDonald eventually showed his class but for the first half defender Jack O'Connor was the Model County's top man.

Despite a sprightly start it was Wexford who were hanging on by a thread right from an early point. When they attacked, their supply was aimless and Limerick mopped up with ease, and looked the better side by far. They are a team that has improved game by game, driven by their brilliant, passionate manager. The truth is they could have won by a lot more.

Indeed, Ronan Lynch had a goal disallowed after 11 minutes as referee Johnny Ryan had already blown for an earlier foul by Jim White. That goal could have killed off Wexford from the start and left the Shannonsiders 1-5 to 0-2 ahead. Instead the reprieve meant they were four in front.

And while Wexford fared no better up front for the next few minutes they were still only six behind on the 20-minute mark as Lynch, Tom Morrissey and Barry Nash, playing much further out the field last night, went to town on a Wexford defence where the likes of the excellent Jack O'Connor were busy fighting fires.

It was then Wexford's turn to suffer goal heartbreak three minutes before the interval when Kevin Foley's hard-earned effort was disallowed - again because an earlier free had been flagged against Michael Casey. The advantage rule and the refereeing may have infuriated the crowd but it was consistent, at least.

McDonald pointed twice and Wexford trailed 0-11 to 0-4 at the break. They had serious problems, however. Not being able to win their own ball in attack was the first.

As for Limerick, they had six wides registered and should nearly have been out of sight via their high-tempo running game. Just as well Pat Ryan, Cian Lynch and the unstoppable Barry Nash all pointed on the stroke of half-time.

Ryan hit the first score of the second too, Ronan Lynch added two, and they cantered into a 0-14 to 0-5 lead.

Limerick, who won 22 of their own puck-outs, simply continued to draw fouls. Wexford made a raft of changes and a sublime goal from Conor McDonald after 50 minutes threatened a mini resurgence but that was wiped out by a spate of frees.

Wexford haven't won this competition since 1965 and the wait of hardship continues.

Last night's success, however, was perfect revenge for Limerick boss John Kiely who was a sub in their 1996 All-Ireland senior final loss to Wexford.

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 (0-3fs, 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). Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary)

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