Formidable Limerick escape to victory after mesmerising Munster showdown

Champions end Cork’s season to move ominously into Munster final while Wexford and Waterford register impressive victories

More than two hours after the final whistle in the Gaelic Grounds, a dozen Limerick players pulled up a chair by the side of the pitch and sat in a circle, chatting and skitting.

In the warm evening sunshine they fired up the tunes on a speaker, everything from OneRepublic to David Gray to Bob Marley to Elton John. They weren’t even listening; there was too much to talk about.

What a glorious, mesmerising day. On any given Sunday in the championship being guilty of hyperbole is a recurring hazard; for yesterday, there must be an amnesty. You never saw anything like it. Where would you even start?

In tickertape fashion, Wexford survived in the top tier of the hurling championship with a stunning win against Kilkenny; Limerick reached the Munster final for the fifth season in a row, outlasting Cork in a titanic match. All of that needs explaining. Give us a second.


In Croke Park, Dublin scored last to draw with Galway, but Galway came from 12 points down to reach the Leinster final again; in Mullingar Westmeath were relegated to the Joe McDonagh Cup, only a week after causing the sensation of the year in Wexford Park; in Thurles, Tipperary fell over themselves against Waterford and stayed in the championship. Waterford were eliminated after their best performance of the year.

Are we going too fast? There’s only one speed. Keep up.

For the second Sunday in a row, Wexford were the story of the day. Having landed themselves in a relegation sweat after weeks of harmful incompetence, Wexford came from eight points down in the first half to beat their oldest rivals.

At one stage Kilkenny were on the end of a 14-point scoreboard swing, but they came back too, and were leading with a couple of minutes left. In the end, Wexford stared down their worst nightmare.

“Yeah, look, we had a really, really good chat on Sunday evening here at Wexford Park,” said Wexford manager Darragh Egan.

“We left lads to their own devices. They did their recovery in Curracloe. I think the dip in Curracloe probably straightened a few lads out because hopefully the water was about -5 because they deserved it!

“It did straighten lads out. The vibe was good. There may be back stories here, but there really isn’t. It’s as simple as we are a united group. We really, really tried hard during the week to keep the positivity, to give the lads our trust as a management team. We backed that up. We gave them our trust and they obviously backed it up when they got on the pitch. We needed characters on the pitch today. We got them.”

Before a ball was pucked in Limerick, the most-quoted formula for Limerick’s survival was that the All-Ireland champions needed a win. After the earthquake in Thurles, though, it turned out that a draw would have been enough to keep Limerick and Cork alive at Tipp’s expense.

By the end, though, Cork’s race had been run, agonisingly beaten by a point for the second week in a row.

“All we wanted was to get our win, get out the gap and move on to the next phase,” said John Kiely, the Limerick manager.

“We know that we’ve been incrementally improving from the Clare game, right through to this game. We knew that. And our incremental improvements have been consistent and considerable. We just wanted to keep going on that journey of incremental improvement and we’re just thrilled now to have that opportunity to go back to training this week and to try and push the barriers a bit more for ourselves again.”

Limerick were seven points clear with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, but Cork brought the same obstinacy and optimism that had sustained them down the stretch against Tipp and Clare in recent weeks. In time they will reflect on this as a formative experience; this morning it will hurt like hell.

“We came up to win,” said Pat Ryan, the Cork manager. “We had a great opportunity to beat the All-Ireland champions and move on ourselves. The lads expect to perform like that every day – when you put on the Cork jersey, that’s the expectation. We expected to win and we didn’t win and that’s disappointing.”

More than three hours after the final whistle, the circle of Limerick players sitting by the side of the pitch had swollen to nearly 30. Some of the management had joined them. Music was still blaring. They weren’t listening. Elivs Presley. Coldplay. Tom Petty.

Then Tina Turner: Rolling on a River.


Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times