Dublin have no answer to Limerick scoring machine as Kyle Hayes returns

John Kiely says he ‘never hesitated in picking’ Hayes, who awaits sentencing on a violent disorder conviction

AHL Div 1B: Dublin 1-18 Limerick 3-30

When the teams were announced over the public address, about 15 minutes before throw-in, only a few hundred early-birds were in Croke Park for the hurling curtain-raiser. Most of them were from Limerick. The biggest cheer was for the Limerick number seven. Welcomed back. Embraced.

Two months after Kyle Hayes was convicted of violent disorder in a Limerick city nightclub in 2019, and as he awaits sentencing on March 20th, Hayes made his first appearance in a Limerick jersey since the All-Ireland final.

In his performance there was no trace of the cloud in his life. With his first possession he jinked past a Dublin player, flicked the ball over his head like he was tossing a pancake, and fired a shot from 80 metres that dropped narrowly wide. Ten minutes later he found his range with another strike from distance.

Everything about his game was familiar: dynamic, dominant, creative. By the end of the game he had been involved in four scores and executed a fistful of turnovers. Other Limerick players making their first appearance of the season had looked a little out of touch, but Hayes was fluent in his hurling and smooth in his movement.


His selection had come as a surprise. The general belief was that Hayes’s season would be on hold until his sentence hearing, although Limerick had not made any statement on the matter one way or another.

In his post-match press conferences John Kiely is generally expansive in his answers, and he spoke at length about a handful of other topics on Saturday evening, but he didn’t dwell on Hayes.

Asked if he was happy with Hayes’s performance the Limerick manager said, “I thought he did great, yeah.”

Asked if he had any hesitation in picking him Kiely was brief and unequivocal. “Never,” he said, before pausing for a couple of seconds. “Never hesitated in picking him.”

For Limerick it was another chance to blow some dirty diesel from their tank. They lined out with nine of the team that started the All-Ireland final last July, and over the course of the game blooded half a dozen players who had never appeared in Croke Park before. That cocktail was too much for Dublin.

Limerick started as they meant to go on. Straight from the throw-in they surged through the heart of the Dublin defence, Will O’Donoghue fed the ball to Gearóid Hegarty and his swift pass found Donnacha O’Dalaigh, unmarked in the large parallelogram. With his second touch, and with just 13 seconds on the clock, his shot found the top corner of Dublin’s net.

To their credit Dublin steadied themselves and found a way back into the game. On an evening of many happy returns, Chris Crummey played his first game since 2022, Donal Burke made his first appearance since last June after a horrific hamstring injury and Danny Sutcliffe made his first appearance of the season too. For the months ahead their leadership will be critical.

After a couple of anaemic performances in their opening two league games, Dublin showed some substance; not for long enough to make a game of it, but long enough to take some good from it.

They stitched together five unanswered points in the middle of the first half to bring themselves back into the game, and Nickie Quaid was forced into a really good save by Seán Currie. Cian O’Sullivan had another terrific effort that was deflected wide and at the time, when the game was still alive, a goal would have given Dublin some impetus and badly needed confidence.

Instead, just when they reduced Limerick’s lead to a point, the All-Ireland champions pounced for their second goal. Just like the first goal, Hegarty played a diagonal pass that eliminated the Dublin cover and Tom Morrissey produced a laser-like finish from a tight angle.

In the last five minutes of the first half Limerick rattled off five points without reply. An eight-point deficit at the break was hard on Dublin and probably didn’t reflect the run of play, but the All-Ireland champions had managed to get off 27 shots without much interference and that was a key point of difference.

O’Dalaigh scored his second goal just after half-time and Dublin were 14 points down before Currie found the net. They didn’t score again for more than 10 minutes. Limerick never stopped.

Young Adam English was really impressive on his Croke Park debut, landing five points from play, and in an experimental posting at centre back Cathal O’Neill fired over four points. By the end, the game had been reduced to looting.

DUBLIN: S Brennan; J Madden, P Smyth, J Bellew; C Donohoe (0-1), C Crummey, D Gray; C Burke (0-2), S Gallagher; R Hayes (0-1), D Burke (0-5, 0-4f, 0-1 65), B Hayes; D Sutcliffe (0-3), C O’Sullivan (0-5, 0-3f), S Currie 1-0.

Subs: D O’Dulaing (0-1) for B Hayes (48 mins); D Power for Gallagher (52); P Crummey for Donal Burke (54); J Malone for Currie, D Leavy for Hayes (both 65).

LIMERICK: N Quaid; F O’Connor (0-1), M Casey, B Nash; D Byrnes (0-2, 0-1f), C O’Neill (0-4), K Hayes (0-1); W O’Donoghue, D O’Donovan; G Hegarty (0-5), T Morrissey (1-4), C Boylan; D O’Dalaigh (2-1), S O’Brien (0-1), A English (0-8, 0-3f).

Subs: S Flanagan for O’Brien (43 mins); M Houlihan (0-2) for Boylan, D Morrissey for Casey, B Murphy (0-1) for O’Donoghue (both 57); A Costello for Nash (66).

Referee: Kevin Jordan (Tipperary).

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Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times