by Mal Keaveney
STRANGE as it may seem Limerick and Kilkenny have never met in a competitive under-21 hurling match but that will all change when the counties clash in a novel Bord Gais All-Ireland Final at Semple Stadium, Thurles on Saturday, September 9.
The Cats beat Derry by an embarrassingly wide margin whereas Pat Donnelly’s Limerick needed to produce a storming late rally to overcome stubborn Galway in an enthralling encounter. Both semis were played as a double-header in front of a crowd of around 6,500 in Thurles on Saturday evening last.
Limerick looked far from the one-to-six favourites that the bookmakers had them priced-up at as Galway took their opponents the distance, and for a little while it looked as if extra-time would be necessary to separate these well matched semi-finalists.
Wind-assisted Galway and Limerick retired level at the break, 0-12 to 1-9, with the three-pointer from the stick of Peter Casey. On the resumption, Limerick weathered a heavy Galway storm, the damage which came with goals courtesy of Jack Coyne and inevitably Conor Whelan.
In between those two heavy hits, Limerick had a goal of their own through the often under-rated Barry Murphy.
Limerick didn’t show a hint of panic, only settled down to their task and whittle out Galway’s advantage on a few occasions, with massive scores from the likes of Andrew La Touche Cosgrave, Conor Boylan, Kyle Hayes, Aaron Gillane, Robbie Hanley and in particular Thomas Grimes.
“Yes, they did surprise us” admitted man-of-the-match Barry Nash. “Galway hadn’t played a match, but still they have the players, some of them with the seniors and we knew they would give us a rattle. Again, it took us a while to get into it but thankfully we did get going and are glad to have gotten over the line in the end.
“We didn’t panic, even after Galway’s second goal. At the time, I looked around and knew there wasn’t any panic setting in on our side. We settled again and hit the last four points of the match. It sets up a nice final now between ourselves and Kilkenny. There is probably two sets of different players, but hopefully it will turn into a great game for everyone.”
Later in the sanctuary of the dressing-room, Limerick boss Pat Donnelly said: “When we got the second goal, I thought we were going to tack on another few points and pull away. But look, Galway got the goal and the pressure was back on us again. Lads popped up in different positions to get scores at crucial times.
“We were always there or there abouts and we knew we had the firepower. The subs coming on made a huge difference. Andy La Touche (Cosgrave) went in there midfield, made a huge contribution, had a score straight away and his general play was fantastic. Conor Boylan was huge, he added something different to the whole thing and I think that was the crucial part of the game.”
The industrious Cian Lynch sustained a nasty gash to his eyebrow area but a couple of stitches won’t keep this hurling fanatic out of the game for long. Nash too struggled for a while with a suspected leg injury either side of half-time and was eventually rested by the management in the latter stages.
He looked fine when accepting his award as the game’s outstanding player from TG4.
A repeat of the minor final three years ago – won 2-17 to 0-19 by Kilkenny – is on the cards early next month. “I’d say the bulk of that panel from underage is still there. We took it up this year, and from the first night out, I’d say our trainer Mikey Kiely had it planned out for the year.
“He expected us to be there in September. Luckily, we are here. We have Kilkenny and for these lads, there’s unfinished business,” Donnelly stated.
Limerick are 8/15 favourites to win an eight All-Ireland Under-21 hurling title.
Visit the Limerick Post GAA Sports section to keep up to date with Limerick under 21 hurling.