Thurles beckons for the Limerick U20 Hurlers this weekend as they begin a hectic spell of three finals in as many weeks for the county.
Diarmuid Mullins’ side face Kilkenny in the U20 All-Ireland final in Semple Stadium on Sunday with throw in at 1.30pm.
Limerick were last crowned champions in what was then the under-21 in 2017 when they defeated this weekend’s opponents at the same venue.
Tom Morrissey captained the side that day with four more of the starting fifteen playing in the senior All-Ireland final eleven months later in the form of Sean Finn, Kyle Hayes, Cian Lynch and Aaron Gillane.
Ten of that team have gone on to win senior All-Ireland titles. Two years earlier, the Diarmaid Byrnes led side picked up a first national title in 13-years with a win over Wexford with fifteen of the players that featured that day winning Celtic Cross medals three years later.
But Mullins’ team is looking to pave a path of their own as they look for some revenge against the Cats who have proven a thorn in this side before.
Limerick were crowned Munster minor champions in 2019 but were defeated by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final on the same day Brian Cody’s men defeated John Kiely’s side in the senior championship.
Mullins is seeking to learn from that setback,
“Its going to be very difficult. At minor level we went to Croke Park as Munster Champions and Kilkenny came through the round robin system and there was nothing between the two teams after the first half. But, in the second half they blew us away really. I suppose that was a big disappointment for that group of players, but look we have a chance next week to atone for that.”
Limerick were crowned Munster U20 champions with a four point win over Tipperary in a provincial campaign that included successive wins over Clare, Cork and Waterford before the victory over the Premier county.
Mullins was happy for the fortnight’s break in the lead up to the final with Kilkenny booking their place in the final last week with a win over Wexford in the Leinster decider.
“Its just nice to have two weeks to prepare for the All-Ireland Final. We probably needed the time after playing four games in six weeks so some tired bodies but when your preparing for an All-Ireland Final, I think the tiredness goes away fairly quickly. So we are just concentrating and focusing on being as prepared as possible for next Sunday against Kilkenny.
“Its going to be tight and I’ve said that about all the games so far and I’ve no reason to believe it wont be tight next week again”
Limerick are without arguably their key man in Cathal O’Neill whose appearance in the Munster Senior championship makes him ineligible.
O’Neill was instrumental in the opening day win but since the team have stepped up to fill his void as vice-captain and top scorer Aidan O’Connor acknowledged,
“The first day Cathal O’Neill got 2-3. He dragged us out of that game and we don’t have him anymore so we just had to rely on everyone else to put in a shift and try and get a result. We have done that for the last three games thank god and everyone is chipping in with everything they have.”
For captain Jimmy Quilty, reaching the final on Sunday has taken years of service to the county with the group together for a long time as they seek to earn a coveted All-Ireland title to go with provincial success.
“A lot of us have been together since we were under fourteen, it’s great to have us all up here again at U20. We competed well at minor, we won a Munster, we’re just hoping to go one step further.
“Might be cliché to say but it’s just another game and it’s another stepping stone for a lot of players but of course it’s going to be a great occasion for everyone, family and friends as well, to be involved in such a great game and hopefully it loves up to the expectation.”
Limerick and Kilkenny meet in the All-Ireland U20 Hurling final on Sunday 22 May in FBD Semple Stadium at 1.30pm.
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