On Sunday, Aaron Gillane could become the greatest Limerick forward of them all, certainly from a scoring perspective.
The county has produced some great forwards, with Mick Mackey, Eamonn Cregan, Richie Bennis and Andrew O’Shaughnessy remembered by different generations of Limerick supporters.
But Gillane can become eclipse them all, with eight points against Galway.
Currently with 11-185 to his name, hitting an average of ten points per game in this season’s Munster Championship means that before long, another former Ardscoil Rís man will set the new bar in Limerick hurling.
Dowling’s 13-186 was achieved mainly as Limerick evolved from pretenders to contenders, while 25-year-old Gillane has been pivotal to the Limerick success, that has arrived after his debut in 2017. With just 2-1, seven points, between them, it is likely that we’ll see that at least closed at Croke Park.
The Patrickswell sharpshooter sits in second place behind former teammate Dowling, having surpassed clubmate Gary Kirby in April’s win over Waterford at the TUS Gaelic Ground. In a Man-of-the-Match display, Gillane hit 0-13, including six points from play.
Dowling’s record haul of 13-185 was rounded off with his exquisite goal in the 2019 final loss to Kilkenny, his final appearance for his county. Injury certainly robbed the fans favourite of a chance of putting up an even greater total.
Of course, Limerick’s success since 2018 means that such records are likely to tumble with the round-robin playing a major factor in the number of appearances Gillane has amassed. Should the record be broken on Sunday, it will be in three fewer appearances.
Dowling started 21 of his 32 appearances, while Gillane has started 24 of his 28 championship games under John Kiely.
Debuting in 2017 as a substitute against Clare the Na Piarsaigh man had a 13-minute cameo appearance The scorekeepers weren’t threatened in the Championship until the following May, when Gillane bagged 0-8 in the season opener against Tipperary. Few would have predicted Limerick’s success at the juncture and perhaps the jury was out on Gillane, who’d only made his league debut that January against Laois.
His impressive form so far in 2022 has made this record-haul more probable. With 3-32 in his four appearances, the inside forward has averaged more than ten points per game, putting him seventh on this season’s scoring list. This, with one, two or three fewer appearances than the likes of Lee Chin, Tony Kelly and T.J. Reid.
Dowling broke Gary Kirby’s record, which stood since 1999, in 2018, ironically when Gillane was suspended following a red card against Cork. The Na Piarsaigh man fired 0-15 against Waterford, his penultimate time starting for Limerick.
Only a free taker?
Of the top scorers of all time, the top three reads; Patrick Horgan, Joe Canning, Henry Shefflin. All three were free-takers but all three scored heavily from play throughout their careers.
Often with players who accumulate large tallies, comments that they rely on free-taking reach these totals is thrown out. While placed balls do play a significant role in Gillane’s scoring, he is top scorer from play with 9-65 (92) keeping him ahead of Tom Morrissey (1-73) during the John Kiely era.
Of the white flags raised, 64% have come from placed balls. Dowling finished at 79%.
Clubmate Diarmaid Byrnes has assumed the long-range frees and 65’s.
Dowling scored 10-39 from play, with Gillane’s 9-65 pushing him ahead in that metric. That said, the Limerick game plan has changed and Dowling often played much further from goal.
Two penalties, against Kilkenny (2019) and Tipperary (2020), account for the other scores from placed balls. Therefore only 19% of the goals are from penalties.
Take your points and the goals will come
With 11 goals, Gillane has some way to go to catch the 34 for the legendary Mick Mackey, but many of those green flags have been key to the success of Limerick.
Seven goals from Kyle Hayes keep him just behind Gillane’s nine from open play, with Limerick adapting a game plan to ensure he thrives close to goal. Often flanked by Seamus Flanagan and Graeme Mulcahy, Limerick’s service of ball has made him so difficult to handle, and in the reckoning for a third All-Star Award in four seasons.
Gearoid Hegarty is third in this metric with five three-pointers, but clearly Paul Kinnerk and co. have set their target on Gillane’s ability close to goal to best suit the team.
Seven of these have come in the Munster Championship, one in All Ireland pre-liminary quarter-final, two in All-Ireland semi-finals, and a goal in last season’s decider, against Cork
Indeed, all Munster hurling rivals have seen Gillane with a goal next to his game, with Tipperary (4), Waterford (2), Cork (2), Clare (1), Carlow (1), Kilkenny (1) all picking the sliotar out of the net.
Sunday’s opponents, Galway, are the only side to prevent Gillane from netting, having faced him in the 2018 final and 2020 semi-final.
Nine of the 11 green flags have come from play, with the penalties against Kilkenny 2019 and Tipperary 2020 dispatched with finesse. Seven goals have been in the first half, with four coming down the home straight.
How far to the top?
Nationally, the Limerick scoring record still has some way to go to catch the scoring prowess set by the top three of Patrick Horgan (Cork), Joe Canning (Galway) and Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny). Should Gillane score the required points this week, he will jump inside the top 20 in the history of the game.
The Limerick man has only scored 37% of the record held by Horgan, 23-513 (582), though the Glen Rovers man has lined out 70 times for the Rebels in Championship.
Given how quickly he has tallied these scores, who’d back against Gillane getting somewhere near that total?