It’s hard to fathom now but before the All-Ireland final in 2006, Brian Cody’s legacy as Kilkenny manager was still teetering somewhat in the balance. He’d been at the helm since 1998 and in the ensuing years, he’d won three finals (in ’00, ’02, ’03) and lost three more (in ’98, ’99, ’04). Cork knew it too. In his autobiography, Donal Óg Cusack opined that “We always felt that we could have finished Cody off in 2006, if we had beaten them in the All-Ireland final and completed a three-in-a-row run of titles. That would have hurt Kilkenny deeply and Cody would have been under pressure to go. Instead, we created a monster”. That they did. Kilkenny won six of the next seven championships on offer.
Fast-forward twelve years and Cork have their foot on Limerick’s throat in an All-Ireland semi-final, leading by six with seven minutes remaining. While it would be absurd to suggest that a defeat for Limerick would have signaled the end for Kiely, after just two years in the role, who knows what would have happened had Cork managed to close out the lead. Seamus Harnedy goals in the 72nd minute of that game and just like in 2013 and ’14, a Limerick team comprising the likes of Nicky Quaid, Declan Hannon, Graeme Mulcahy and Shane Dowling fall short at the penultimate stage and another chapter is written in the annals of Limerick’s unending anguish. It’s basic Chaos Theory isn’t it? A butterfly flaps his wings in the Amazonian jungle etc. etc. In this instance, Nicky Quaid flaps his arms at the Davin End, Harnedy’s strike is intercepted and ultimately, Limerick win the All-Ireland for the first time in forty-five years. A giant emerges from its slumber or as Cusack alluded to, a monster is born.
And oh, what a monster. As fearsome as the Kilkenny behemoth that came before them all those years ago, John Kiely has fashioned a menacing composite of physicality and finesse, brought to life through the meticulous workings of Paul Kinnerk. Soon after John Kiely was installed as Limerick hurling manager in 2016, he repatriated Kinnerk, a native of Monaleen, from across the River Shannon, and with him the alchemy that had transformed the hurling fortunes of neighbouring Clare. Kiely harnessed that magic potion, supplemented it with the relentless endeavor so often associated with Cody’s charges, and delicately poured the resin into a set of gargantuan 6-foot, 13-stone molds. The finished product has proved to be of finer quality than even Kiely could possibly have envisaged.
If anything, Limerick’s capacity to eviscerate teams is even more terrifying than that of Kilkenny’s, for whom goals were the preferred method of execution. Lots of them, often carried out in quick succession. “The patented double-barrel blast”, as Enda McEvoy recently coined it. Think of the All-Ireland finals in ’07 and ’08, when their victims were dead before they could smell the sulphur. Or the ’09 decider, when Tipperary thought they’d evaded the crosshairs for over an hour, only to be picked off twice on the home stretch. Limerick’s modus operandi is more methodical, more protracted and infinitely more painful. Green flags have become redundant, unnecessary trophies, the pursuit of which only detracts from the job at hand. Death by a thousand points.
In doing so, Kiely’s men have made a mockery of one of the game’s foremost maxims. Goals, as it happens, do not win games, at least not when points can be accrued at a rate of knots, from all sectors and all angles. The unyielding accumulation of points has been made feasible by the vast delegation of scoring duties, most notably to the half-forward line. For all intents and purposes, Gearóid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey should act as quintessential bullocking half-forwards, the attritional yin to Cian Lynch’s artisanal yang. It’s how it’s always been for those of six-foot plus stature stationed at numbers 10, 11 and 12 – think Dan McCormack, Johnny Glynn or Walter Walsh and all the unglamorous efficacy they bring to the table.
The notion that these broad-shouldered battering rams should be notching twelve points from play between them, in an All-Ireland Final no less, is almost heretical. In keeping with the age-old adage, they should be “stopping a good man from hurling”. In Waterford’s last All-Ireland final appearance three years ago, Kevin Moran was that soldier, tasked with curbing the influence of Galway’s half-back line and providing a valuable outlet from puck-outs. Standard half-forward practice for a man of 6ft 2. That a player of his ilk returned 1-1 from play was merely an unexpected bonus, one which warranted him an All-Star. Not anymore. As Moran found out to his detriment two weeks ago, a goal and a point from wing-forward is nothing to write home about in Limerick’s new world order.
In the eight-minute of the game, Morrissey, under severe pressure from Jamie Barron, was forced backwards towards his own goal. Unperturbed, he arrowed a shot from over his shoulder and off the back-foot that sailed over the bar. An outrageous effort and the type of score that was once the sole preserve of wily corner-forwards, trademarked by the likes of John Mullane, Eoin Kelly and Patrick Horgan. On a couple of occasions, Seamus Flanagan, deviating from his day job as the archetypal big man at the edge of the square, did similar, dissecting the posts from out on the touchline. Down here, it’s often remarked that we need big men to complement our hurlers. Elsewhere, it is posited that more hurlers are required to complement the big men. But for this Limerick team you see, and to the worriment of their challengers, size and skill are no longer interdependent entities, but rather one indominable coalescence. May God have mercy on us all.
So, is it too premature to talk about the next great dynasty and welcome our new despotic overlords? Hardly, when the team’s age profile, the resources at their disposal and most significantly, their utter domination over the past year are taken into consideration. Five league games, five championship games, ten wins, and most of them with a bit to spare. Kiely and Kinnerk are going nowhere soon either. In times of normality, one might be expecting/hoping that they would go off the rails slightly, winter well in hostelries from Kilmallock to Castletroy and allow the back-slaps to erode their steel. In the current climate however, and with the league set to commence in less than two months, those temptations will be limited. Although in all likelihood, it wouldn’t matter a damn regardless. Just over a year ago, if you recall, some of these boys were engaging themselves in less than ideal off-season activities, throwing slaps around Manhattan. Evidently, it didn’t do them any harm and if anything, those bouts of pugilism were the closest thing to a physical contest they encountered all year.
The future, it appears, is green. And for the rest of the hurling world, I’m afraid it’s the unmistakable hue of envy.