OVER two-and-a-half hours after the final whistle was blown, a handful of Limerick players and backroom members appeared on the Croke Park pitch, in various groups, for another round of photographs, another collection of memories and images stored as posterity to frame their greatness.
Will O’Donoghue was still dressed in his gear, his number 6 jersey still on his back, walking around in his socks, recording images on his phone.
At one stage, Seán Finn jumped into the shot, wearing a sleeveless top where his bulging arms have only got bigger from so much time spent in the gym from not being able to perform on the pitch after tearing his ACL against Clare in April.
That defeat was the first time Limerick had lost a match since the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny and, while they looked vulnerable at different stages of the Munster Championship, finding a way has become so hard-wired into their being as a group that they just expect to do so, no matter what they are faced with.
There were stages in the first half yesterday, just like the Galway match, when all the glitches and kinks that have shown up in their system at various stages of the Championship threatened to short-circuit the board and force it blow up. And then Limerick just hit the reset button. Go again. And blow the opposition away.
- John Kiely: 'We wanted to face that onslaught. We wanted to absorb it. We wanted to feel it'
- Barry Nash: ''I know what we can do and you could see it in the second half, there were scores going over from everywhere'
In the first half, they hit just 0-9. In the first quarter, Limerick only managed just two shots from play. In total, Limerick only had 14 shots at the target in the first half. By the end of the match though, Limerick had got off 41 shots. In the second half, they had just two wides and dropped one short. Their overall conversion rate was an impressive 71 per cent on a tricky day for shooting.
Limerick are devastating in the third quarter, which they were again yesterday, outscoring Kilkenny by 0-11 to 1-2.
Yet, the numbers right across that quarter underline how much they got a grip on Kilkenny’s throat and squeezed the life out of them. Their conversion rate was 85 per cent to Kilkenny’s 42 per cent in that quarter, while they mined 0-5 off Kilkenny puckouts and sourced 0-6 off turnovers during that period.
Once Limerick dialled up the heat, they feasted off Kilkenny turnovers, mining 0-10 from that source in the second half, and 0-15 in total.
Yet they really got a grip of the game from the Kilkenny puckout.
In the opening half, Limerick got just 0-2 off the Kilkenny puckout. By the end of the match, Limerick had sourced 0-11 off Eoin Murphy’s restarts.
There was one stage in the second half when Diarmaid Byrnes won four puckouts but Byrnes’ immense contribution from placed balls again confirmed his brilliance. Eight points, seven from frees, again underlined why Byrnes is now the highest scoring defender in hurling history.
Limerick also showcased their tactical genius by how they managed the game in the second half.
In the first half, Limerick won just two of the nine longs balls played into their full-forward line but they changed their approach in the third quarter by running the ball more through the middle third.
And once they got control of the game, Peter Casey, in particular, began to profit from that long ball inside, with Limerick scoring 0-5 from that tactic in the second half.
Kilkenny did err by taking Mikey Butler off him. However it happened, Tommy Walsh found himself on Casey, who was having a decent game on Seamus Flanagan. By the time Butler was switched back onto Casey again in the 62nd minute, Casey had wrecked Kilkenny.
Cian Lynch also led that charge by effectively running the game and, critically, grabbing hold of it when the need was greatest.
From 20 plays, Lynch scored two points but he had five assists, two more assisted shots that were missed, while he was centrally involved in two more scores. In essence, Lynch’s fingerprints were all over nine scores. Massive.
When the need was greatest, Limerick found a way. Yet the way they found that way once more – by hitting an incredible 21 scores in the second half – again underlined why this side have earned the right to be considered possibly the greatest ever.