#PHOTOS All-Ireland glory beckons for Limerick’s magnificent hurlers

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29 July 2018; Limerick manager John Kiely and Declan Hannon, left, celebrate following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Cork and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

IN THE most spell-binding hurling championship ever, Limerick are the first team through to the All-Ireland Senior Final at Croke Park on August 19.

Fearless Limerick, for the umpteenth time this season, escaped from the trapdoor to conquer great rivals Cork in a truly memorable semi-final at headquarters. In arrears by six points with not many more minutes left of normal-time, John Kiely’s young stars climbed another mountain to rescue a draw.

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The Shannonsiders were masters in extra-time, courtesy in the main to a penalty goal from Shane Dowling and another three-pointer from Pat Ryan, both inspired substitutes by the management. From a Limerick supporters’ perspective, it was an occasion to be cherished, one of those afternoons borrowed from hurling heaven.

Ninety minutes of equally absorbing hurling failed to produce a winner between holders Galway and Clare in the earlier semi-final, and those two sides now meet in a replay at Thurles on Sunday next. Croke Park was unable to host the fixture due to a concluding double-header in the ‘Super 8s’ football championship and Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds was ruled-out due to the lack of Hawkeye technology at the venue.

Galway retain the favourites tag to beat Clare but are likely to be minus players through injury, possibly including the great Joe Canning (knee). Either way, an exceptional youthful Limerick outfit will be in dread of no one in a little over a fortnight’s time.

All that is certain on August 19 is that Limerick will make their first All-Ireland Final appearance since 2007 in a game that will be preceded by the minor decider between Galway and Kilkenny. The respective throw-in times will be 3:30pm and 1:30pm, and the search has begun for one of the prized 82,000 tickets.

“We were very confident in the dressing room,” said Kiely of the mood at the end of normal time. “We just needed to get organised, get at it and get out there. There was an early storm for the first five minutes and then the lads came on and took their chances.

“Once the second goal went in in injury time we had a six- or seven-point lead and we had the capacity to defend that for the most part, the clock was running down. So proud of the players because that six-point lead (to Cork) with 10 minutes to go, it’s a fair challenge and they dug deep.”

Lest it ever be forgotten, there would never have been the need of extra-time for a wonder save from lynx-eyed goalkeeper Nickie Quaid to deny Seamus Harnedy a match-winning goal at the death. Moments later man-of-the-match Aaron Gillane knocked over a possible winner for Limerick only for Patrick Hogan to subsequently point a leveller for the Leesiders.

Roared-on by 30,000 supporters – who by now have purchased throat lozenges in record numbers – Limerick were superior in the additional 20 minutes. Another epic finished: 3-32 to 2-31, with Cork claiming a very late consolation goal. It’s been a whopping 45 years since Limerick last won the Liam McCarthy Cup. Will captain Declan Hannon become the modern-day Eamonn Grimes?

all pictures: sportfile