Limerick are looking to seal their era of dominance in tomorrow’s All Ireland Hurling final as they quest for a third straight Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph.
he Cats of Kilkenny are underdogs for once – and hungry ones at that.
Excitement has peaked at clubs in both countries where greatness was forged and roots run deep.
Under a hot July sun, the game is played in challenging, energy-sapping temperatures. Still, fans are expecting a game that will go down in history.
There is an unusual calm in one respect – there is no scrambling for tickets. For once, there seems to be enough to keep fans satisfied, largely due to the fact that there won’t be a smaller game beforehand.
“We’re all sorted by ticket,” says Damien O’Connell, club historian at O’Loughlin Gaels on the outskirts of Kilkenny, where members enjoy tea on the clubhouse’s new balcony, built by volunteers during lockdown.
The O’Loughlins have three of their own in the team tomorrow – Paddy Deegan, Huw Lawlor and Mikey Butler, along with Conor Heary on the bench.
Although they are the stars of the club, they are also “down to earth, hardworking, down to earth”.
“They call it O’Loughlin’s Wall,” says Eileen Cleere (89) proudly of the three Kilkenny defenders. “We expect them to play a big role that day.”
All are part of the rare Kilkenny generation who have yet to see success across Ireland.
Club secretary Joan Galwey says, “This group is really hungry because they don’t have medals on minors. They have some but not All-Irelands – but it’s proof that you don’t need to win medals to make the senior list if you work hard enough.”
Mr O’Connell recalled a Polish girl who came to town for work and thought the procession of the Liam MacCarthy Trophy parade through town was an annual event.
“But we haven’t won since 2015,” he says.
A stone’s throw away at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny Treasurer Barry Hickey says preparations for the final have been very brief when it comes to fundraising.
Due to the lack of accommodation in Dublin they are taking the team to the River Court Hotel in Kilkenny tomorrow night.
“But the good thing is we’re bringing the business back to Kilkenny,” he says.
Outside, John Mackey, who had been selling shirts at the fan club, was out of stock.
“I’m sold out,” he says. “Seventeen dozen jerseys and twelve dozen polo shirts – all I have left are a couple of shorts and a couple of flags but we expect them to be gone by evening. They wrecked it for everyone having the finals so early this year.”
For singer-songwriter and hurling fan Mick Hanly, the All-Ireland hurling final is a sporty catch-22 worthy of a classic ballad.
Born in Limerick and a lifelong Treaty County hurling fan, he now lives in Kilkenny, is married to a proud Kilkenny woman and looks forward to tomorrow’s showdown with a mixture of excitement and fear.
The Hanlys’ home in Thomastown will fly both the Kilkenny and Limerick flags as a show of fairness.
“It’s going to be an intriguing and compelling finale,” says Mr. Hanly. “Kilkenny are a brilliant side and Limerick have shown what a great team they are over the past five years. They really set the bar very high.”
In the village of Castleconnell, County Limerick stands a statue of the great Mick Mackey who was born 110 years ago this week.
His great-granddaughter now plays at his club in Ahane, just down the road, where Limerick footballer Peter Nash puts the kids through their paces at the Cúl Camps.
The atmosphere is electric as the youngsters brim over with the prospect of cheering on their clubmates, brothers Dan and Tom Morrissey and Ciaran Barry.
“We’ve picked a great week for the Cúl Camps,” says Sarah Sheahan, PRO of the club’s Bord na nÓg. “It adds a lot to the atmosphere. All the U12s are going to the final by bus, so they’re all very excited. Let’s hope they enjoy coming home.”
Dan, Tom and Ciaran are great with the kids, she adds.
“They are gods here and extremely talented, but they are very down to earth and have time for everyone.”
Like everyone at Ahane GAA, they have been very involved in caring for the elderly in the community and delivering meals and medicines during the pandemic.
Recently, Ms. Sheahan came across a photo of Dan as a child when he was the goaltender for the Mini Sevens football team.
“He’s been around since he was little – they all are,” she says.
Despite being an inter-county footballer himself, Limerick City Development Hurling Officer Peter Nash thrives on bringing the youth along and wouldn’t miss being at Croke Park tomorrow.
“The excitement is huge — there’s a lot of belief in these guys and the belief is seeping through,” he says.
“You’d miss some games playing football but I love it – they’re a great group to watch and they’re really top-notch lads.
“You would meet her at the gym and have a great conversation. They are excellent with the children and give their time.”
Back in Castleconnell, George Lee waters the flowers outside his shop, Shannon Stores, which his father opened in 1946.
He was in Croke Park to see Limerick take on Kilkenny in the 2007 All-Ireland Final and remembers the triumphant Cats fans waving at him as he turned on his way home.
“So I won’t be at Croke Park on Sunday because I don’t want to burden them with mockers,” he says. “I’ll watch it in there in this room, and I’ll be the only one left in the village. They all say ‘close the gate’ to me.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/nicola-anderson-for-once-the-cats-are-the-underdogs-but-limerick-fans-dont-claim-to-be-immortal-41844191.html Nicola Anderson: The Cats are the underdogs for once, but Limerick fans don’t claim to be immortal