I think I can safely speak for the rest of the country when I ask why Tipperary didn’t rein it in a bit in the 2009 All-Ireland SHC semi-final.
Up against Limerick, Liam Sheedy’s men won by 6-19 to 2-7 and one Treatyman was so dispirited by what he saw that he emailed the county board to offer his services, in any capacity.
That was John Kiely, who soon became manager of the county’s intermediate team before progressing to selectorial roles with the U21 and senior sides, and then managing both in succession, leading to the situation now where the Shannonsiders sit undisputed as the kingpins of hurling.
What can we say about Sunday’s win over Cork that hasn’t been said already? The 3-18 Limerick scored in the first half was more than combined scores in both the 1999 and 2004 finals (Cork beating Kilkenny by 0-13 to 0-12 and 0-17 to 0-9 respectively). They finished with 3-32, which was two points more than the Cats managed against Waterford as they completed three-in a-row in 2008, considered one of the finest performances of all time. The final Limerick tally was in fact the exact same as what they scored against Cork in the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final – but that was over 90 minutes, due to extra time.
But for a disputed wide that could have been a 65 in the 2019 semi-final against Kilkenny, Limerick might have been in that year’s final too, favourites against a Tipperary team they had already beaten. Since then, there has been a desire to ensure that such small margins cannot be allowed to dictate and their nine championship matches across 2020 and 2021 have seen a cumulative winning margin on 77 points. Their four games in this year’s championship saw an average margin of victory of 10 points.
When five games in the delayed 2020 winter championship produced just three Limerick goals – all against Tipperary – there developed a sense that beating them in the goal-scoring stakes might just be the way to knock them off their stride and potentially edge them out.
This season though has seen that hope snuffed out, with Limerick’s attack bagging eight goals to just five conceded – three of which were scored by Tipp, who still lost by five points in the Munster final.
That provincial decider, where Limerick trailed by 10 points at half-time but produced a stunning turnaround in the third quarter, would be hard to top for many teams, but Sunday – especially the first half, where the game was won – was even better. From one to 15, there was not a single weak link in the champions’ armour and Cork could do nothing to halt the green-and-white combine harvester.
The Rebels’ manager Kieran Kingston likened their task to trying to keep the tide out with a bucket, and it was a perfect analogy.
You could have picked a Rest of Ireland selection on Sunday and they would have struggled to come near Limerick, so well-oiled a machine are they.
And, while it is true that JP McManus is a generous benefactor, he has been the county’s sponsor since 2004 and there were some dark days between then and the 45-year wait for an All-Ireland being ended in 2018.
Right now, it looks as if everybody else is playing for second place in 2022, but nothing lasts forever, as Mayo showed us against Dublin a fortnight ago.
After beating Limerick in that aforementioned 2009 semi-final, Tipp faced a Kilkenny team that was seeking to win a fourth straight title and, while the Premier County couldn’t halt that quest, they gave the Cats enough to think about and the following year they did manage to prevent Brian Cody’s side achieving the five-in-a-row.
Empires rise and empires fall. Right now, Limerick’s star is transcending all others, but, while they will be the favourites again next year, the script remains unwritten.
At the time of writing, the bookmakers have Kerry as 1/5 favourites to return to the All-Ireland senior football final by beating Tyrone this Saturday – having the Ulster champions as such outsiders is reminiscent of the period before the province’s renaissance in the early 1990s.
Of course, there is an asterisk of sorts attached to the men from Ulster’s long odds – a Covid-19 outbreak within the squad has hampered preparations for the game, to the point where this weekend’s fixture is the third setting the game has had.
Kerry were seen as the county likeliest to end Dublin’s unprecedented run (until Mayo finally pulled it off) – witness how Cork’s victory over the Kingdom last November was seen as a bad thing rather than joy taken in an underdog winning – and the form they have shown so far has certainly indicated that they are ready to end a drought stretching back to 2014.
They were put in a difficult position not of their own making when it emerged that Tyrone had issues and the Kerry County Board have been magnanimous in looking for their opponents to be accommodated.
Of course, there is some self-interest in that, as nobody in the Kingdom camp would have wanted to be given a semi-final walkover and have to go into a decider without a meaningful game under their belt since swatting Cork aside in July.
Ultimately, Kerry can’t do anything about the circumstances and have to approach the game on its merits, which they shouldn’t have a problem doing. Sport can be funny, though: while we’re not suggesting that Tyrone planned this as part of some dastardly scheme, events like this can galvanise a team and inspire performances beyond the level anybody could have expected.
Logically, everything points to a Kerry win in Croke Park on Saturday and another potentially epic clash against Mayo to pick up where 2014 and 2017 left off – but you just never know.