Sport

Seamus Maloney: Hurling's relentless positivity will see Limerick lauded for continued dominance

Limerick celebrate their third All-Ireland title in four years following Sunday's win over Cork at Croke Park Picture: Philip Walsh.
Limerick celebrate their third All-Ireland title in four years following Sunday's win over Cork at Croke Park Picture: Philip Walsh. Limerick celebrate their third All-Ireland title in four years following Sunday's win over Cork at Croke Park Picture: Philip Walsh.

THERE are no words. Or, if you want to look at it another way, there are an awful lot of words, all saying much the same thing.

Limerick’s display in the All-Ireland hurling final against Cork had the pundits, the reporters, the writers, the supporters, even the self-proclaimed casual observers, scouring the lexicon for superlatives.

No-one had seen anything like it, especially in the first half when they racked up 3-18 and finished a final reckoned to be a close one. The bookmakers, who don’t buy into anything but cold, hard profit, generally thought there would be five points in it, nothing in these days of teams sharing hundreds of points in every match.

Limerick deserved their praise, and deserved to be the focus, which you’d expect Cork manager Kieran Kingston to say after the match. Despite Cork’s progress this year there will be devastating post mortems this winter on Leeside where they expect to lose to nobody – especially not like that.

Limerick also deserve to be talked about beside the greatest teams to play the game. It’s an endless and circular conversation because no-one has seen everyone and the game Limerick played to win the three Liam MacCarthy Cups captain Declan Hannon has lifted bears virtually no comparison to the one played by Dick ‘Drug’ Walsh’s Kilkenny in the first decades of the last century or Mikey Maher’s Tipperary in the last decade of the one before.

Christy Ring, the other man to captain three All-Ireland winning sides, did so in the 1940s and ’50s, and when he died in 1979 the game looked much the same as it would for the next three decades.

How many more times Hannon, or some successor, climbs the Hogan Stand steps is obviously unknown but no-one is stepping forward to say with any confidence that they’ll stop at three. The chasing pack, whether or not you think Cork is the best of it, all look miles behind, just as the pretenders to Dublin’s football crown did until this year.

No matter how much the non-Dublin public willed it, no-one was capable of stepping up and stopping them. And oh how the non-Dublin public willed it. The past week and a bit, since Mayo inflicted Dublin’s first Championship defeat in seven years, has seen plenty of praise for the Dubs’ unprecedented achievement, praise it feels safe to hand out now no-one has to worry about them devouring everything in front of them time after time.

Although there were exceptions, while Dublin were winning all those All-Irelands they did it in the role of bogeyman, even from the start of their run. The big city boys with their massive population, their Croke Park home advantage and their seemingly endless flow of cash from the GAA to keep the whole show on the road.

While Dublin’s circumstances leave them open to criticism from directions other counties will never have to face, they still put on displays of objectively brilliant skill, power and flair – on the biggest occasions. But look back and you won’t find a single post-All-Ireland flurry of reaction as effusive as the one that greeted Limerick.

In large part it’s a hurling thing. It lends itself to over-the-top reaction, which is self-perpetuating. If the default setting is ‘Oh my God!’ then where do you go when something exceptional – like Limerick’s first half performance on Sunday – comes along? The year this Limerick team won their first All-Ireland, the weekend that both their semi-final win over Cork and Clare’s semi-final draw with Galway went to extra-time was hailed as something dropped from heaven. Perfect, unbeatable sport. While the Limerick-Cork match was a cracker, the other one left plenty to be desired. Close and exciting but, apart from a few exceptions, nowhere near the same quality. But still, the Galway and Clare players were warrior-artists of the ancient game to a man.

It’s this rampant positivity that may mean Limerick can keep building the sort of dynasty Dublin did while insulated from the sort of shots the Dubs had to deal with. Even Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row winners from 2006-2009 were simply hailed for their greatness. Tipp or Cork people may have griped, but more generally they were celebrated.

Limerick look for all the world like surpassing that side of Brian Cody’s, not least because the age profile of the side is petrifyingly young, and history suggests they’ll be able to do it basking in good wishes and effusive praise. But if you want to, there are some threads to be pulled at.

They’ve been able to build their dominance helped by a billionaire benefactor, JP McManus, whose money has contributed to paying down debt on the Gaelic Grounds and the long-term sponsorship of the county which doesn’t put any balls over the bar but certainly helps maintain structures to achieve success. It also lets them play in lovely pure green jerseys without a mess of logos on them. That must be worth a couple of points a game.

The physicality they play with has become the benchmark other teams realistically need to reach, but it’s also a tightrope. Even though he scored 0-5 before going off injured in the first half of the final, Peter Casey’s absence would hardly have made a difference. Though he never should have been playing after getting sent off in the semi-final against Waterford. Similarly, Aaron Gillane should have been suspended for Sunday’s game because he should clearly have been sent off in the Munster final against Tipperary. Limerick might not even have got past Tipp had Gillane seen red while they were 10 points down early in the second half.

But if a backlash does eventually emerge - even if it’s completely undeserved - you can be sure they’ll welcome it in Limerick, because the one thing it means for sure is that they’re still winning.