By Jimmy Neary
On a rain soaked day on the Killian End in Semple Stadium I watched the 1973 Munster Final between Tipperary and Limerick. The last ‘poc fada’ of the day saw a cool, brave Richie Bennis stand over the placed ball and then slot the winning point between the posts to send Limerick on to their first All-Ireland Final in 33 years. Tipperary slipped into obscurity for 15 long years.
The rain followed and favoured Limerick when they went on to defeat an injury stricken Kilkenny on a rain sodden day in the old, gloomy Croke Park in 1973. The following year, 1974, Kilkenny started out on their magnificent era that amassed a further 18 All-Irelands. Limerick faded in and out until their current glorious run, yielding three titles in four years.
As a youngster I admired the Limerick hurlers even though we didn’t see them too often. With money from my first summer job, I purchased a lush green Limerick jersey in Quinlan’s sports shop in John Street. It was easy to support Limerick back then, as they didn’t pose a threat to the Black and Amber, but that has now changed utterly.
A TERRIBLE BEAUTY IS BORN
Limerick are chasing a fourth title in five short years, hoping to join the elite three – in – a row club. The Noresiders are seven years seeking their 37th crown.
Limerick had their heroes over the years, Mick Mackey, Ciaran Carey, Eamon Grimes, Pat Hartigan and their proud tradition drove them on until their generous benefactor, J.P McManus, gifted them incredible support to develop a finely tuned athletic team, possessing all the skills, new and traditional.
We haven’t an individual of J.P’s status but we have our own supremo, Brian Cody, a graduate of the nurturing ‘Cumann na mBun Scoileanna’. Of course we have our own many long standing generous sponsors who have supported our GAA teams even in lean times. Brian has led his teams to insurmountable records and has now assembled a ‘new’ panel to challenge Limerick for the title “Team of the decade”.
Brian’s greatest gift to Kilkenny hurling is his ability to keep the stars feet firmly on the ground. No individual is bigger than our great game and the old cliché “you are only as good as your last game” is to the fore in his thinking. He can convince the most talented to do the simple basics. (The replay against Tipperary 2014.) Hence Brian’s troops keep returning for more.
THE CODY FORMULAE
I detect John Kiely has studied the Cody formulae and therein lies the secret of Limerick’s run of success. When I look at Brian’s new team two words come to mind, elastic and wheel. There is a continuous motion up and down the field and a swirling filling of spaces across the field. There is a willingness to support, to rescue, to spread, to tighten. There are no set positions. Richie Reid hovers over the defence and thankfully delivers long clearances, Father Maher style – no man can travel faster than the ball. Mikey Butler fulfils a role long disappeared, simply mark your man. Did we not always ask the question, “what did your man score?” Mikey may convince other managers to allow defenders adopt the traditional role. Huw Lalor displays all the qualities of the traditional full back and marshals his troops admirably. Cian Kenny wins ball and immediately thinks forward thrust, resulting in frees, layoffs, scores. TJ roams the pitch, always telepathically in the right place. All Brian’s charges hook, block and chase, so simple, yet so necessary.
Not been admitted to training or attending local championship games has certainly dampened supporter’s enthusiasm. Covid restrictions have introduced fans to a more leisurely way of following hurling via the screen. No doubt enthusiasm will be rekindled in the short lead up to the big day. But let’s hope the octogenarian I met in Parnell Park will still be able to purchase a ticket. He set off on his journey in the early hours of Saturday morning and had to wait in the city for his return bus at 11:30p.m. May he and the other loyal supporters be in Croke Park on the 17th and at games and join in the praises of the Lady from Mooncoin rather than walk away to the echoes of ‘Limerick, you’re a lady’.
Win. Lose or draw, Mr Cody will preach his philosophy, next game, next crop.
Ar Aghaidh Linn.
Jimmy Neary is secretary of Talbot’s Inch handball club