Limerick’s drive for five is over as John Kiely pays tribute to his players

“We have no regrets – and it’s good to have that in some ways”

Cork's Alan Connolly and Limerick's Dan Morrissey battle it out in yesterday's All-Ireland semi-final
Cork's Alan Connolly and Limerick's Dan Morrissey battle it out in yesterday's All-Ireland semi-final
All-Ireland SHC semi-final
Limerick 0-29 Cork 1-28

LIMERICK’S historic ‘drive for five’ is over. Cork burned the boats and Limerick died with their boots on. That was the overriding narrative of this enthralling All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.

For a long time, this epic encounter felt like a speedy, peek-a-boo welterweight, scoring heavily with many of their attacks, before being chased down in the final stretch by a marauding middleweight.

No doubt Limerick struggled with the speed and accuracy of Cork – but great champions like them never go quietly. Another few minutes and they might just have turned this game around and kept the dream of five-in-a-row alive.

But the Rebels were deserving winners. This was guerilla warfare played out on the velvet turf of Jones’s Road.

From the first minute of this semi-final, the Rebels set up ambushes everywhere.

Seamus Harnedy was starting fires down Limerick’s right side. Shane Barrett brought Declan Hannon to places he didn’t want to go.

Darragh Fitzgibbon was awesome in the middle of the field. Alan Connolly and Brian Hayes were unmarkable at times in a blistering first half.

And as soon as centre-back Robert Downey bobbed and weaved down the centre of the field in the fourth minute to somehow keep his balance and open Cork’s account, it felt Pat Ryan’s could pull off the unthinkable and beat the All-Ireland champions twice in the same season.

When Gearoid Hegarty pulled one early effort wide of Cork’s posts it served to energise the Rebels even more.

Seconds later, Brian Hayes had lashed the ball to the Limerick net. But the Shannonsiders responded brilliantly. For all of Cork’s speed, accuracy and panache, they couldn’t shake off the defending champions.

Aaron Gillane played like he always does at Croke Park. In the face of a blood-red onslaught, the Limerick corner-forward kept finding his range time and time again.

Cork had no answer for him.

To hit 10 points and finish on the losing side was one of the great injustices in the capital yesterday.

It was always going to take an incredible performance to topple John Kiely’s men though. Only Cork’s ‘A’ game was going to suffice.

“Listen, I’m just disappointed for the lads,” Kiely said afterwards.

“They’ve put in a huge, huge shift. With a little bit more efficiency they could have got across the line. It was down to a battle of efficiency.

“Cork were that little bit more efficient, I think. I don’t have the stats, but that’s my first impression of it.

“We did have chances coming down the stretch - but Cork’s shooting was incredible. I don’t know how many they got from the sidelines, left and right, but it was quite a few anyway. Congratulations to Cork – we wish them and Clare all the best in the final. It’s over to them now.”

While the feeling of losing their crown they’ve held for four blissful years will feel “God-awful” in the ensuing weeks, you sensed that Kiely and his players will find some solace in the fact that they could have won this semi-final.

It’s not that their punch resistance has waned or their legs have gone. They didn’t lose by 10 points. Only two. Tiny margins all over the field.

And what if Gillane hadn’t slipped after Patrick Collins saved from Hegarty and Limerick raised a green flag?

“We have no regrets – and it’s good to have that in some ways,” said the Limerick manager.

“If you’re efficiency is low, you pay for it – not just on the scoreboard but on the subsequent puck-out. You’re unstructured in defence and you’re far more likely to concede at that back, and I think that’s the price we probably paid.

“Those types of incidents have a big bearing on things. You are vulnerable in that moment in time, and it takes a huge effort to minimize those opportunities that come from those scenarios, but it’s a feature of the game that probably wasn’t there until this year. This is probably a new feature of the game.”

Kiely insisted that his players weren’t burdened by chasing an historic five-in-a-row. After all, no champion has hunted their challengers quite like Limerick have ever since they retained the Liam MacCarthy in 2020 following their semi-final loss to Kilkenny the year before.

“I don’t think the group had any baggage in that regard,” he said. “And I think you could see it in the performance.

“The group inside that dressing room are incredibly dedicated – they shape their world around hurling, where they choose to live, where they choose to work, where they choose to go to college.

“There is incredible togetherness and unity within the group and they’re going to hurt now. There’s no doubt about that. The hurt is going to be God-awful, I’ve no doubt. We haven’t tasted defeat that often. Anytime we have, it tasted very, very sour. We just have to go through that now.

“But I’ve no doubt Limerick will come back in 2025 refreshed and ready to go again. There is no reason why they can’t.

“Isn’t it great to be a leader in a field for others to follow the things that you’ve done and being seen as worthy of doing. There are lots of great teams, lots of great players out there.”

It was going to happen sometime. Limerick are gone.

It’s now over to Cork and Clare. But the deposed champions will be back, hunting in 2025 again...