THE PERFECT END to the perfect season, in an imperfect year.
Limerick were crowned All-Ireland hurling champions at Croke Park this afternoon after a simply scintillating performance against Waterford. The difference was 11 points in the end, with the Treaty posting 24 of theirs from play as they added the Liam McCarthy Cup to their league and Munster crowns to make it an unbeaten 2020 treble.
And as The Cranberry’s Dreams rang around an empty GAA HQ, just like it did in the summer of 2018, the celebrations said it all with John Kiely and his side basking in December delight.
An 11-point win in an All-Ireland final, should we be talking about splitting Limerick in two? The tongue-in-cheek words RTÉ’s Evanne Ní Chuilinn put to double All-Ireland winning boss Kiely in a brilliant post-match interview.
“Listen,” he smiled. “There’s only one thing we’re going to talk about now: how well these boys did today, how hard they worked. They backed themselves, they were favourites coming into the game and that’s something you have to carry. It’s a bit of a burden but it’s how we carried it. We got off to a really good, hard start, we got ourselves into the game early doors.
I’m just very, very proud of the boys. It’s just an incredible achievement for them, what they’ve done all year, since last November 12 months. It’s been 13 months of a campaign really, it’s been phenomenal. I’m just delighted with them.
“I just want to say a big shoutout to all our supporters at home; our families, our friends, our clubs, everybody in Limerick. We’re thinking of ye right now, we wish you were here. But they can’t, that’s just the way it is. We got the championship played and what an achievement for the GAA to get it played right to the end this year.
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“Hats off to Waterford too, they were immense in this campaign. What a campaign they had. We just had enough strength today to hold them at key points in the game, but they kept coming back for more and really pushed us all the way. We had to be absolutely resolve in our determination.”
In understandably jubilant form, he urged the people of Limerick to enjoy every minute through these strange times while being careful while: “To everybody at home, we will have an opportunity after Christmas, please God in March maybe, to celebrate this together as a county, with all our families, all our friends, all our clubmates, all our schools.
But right now we just ask people to stay at home tonight and enjoy it. Soak it up. It means so, so much to the people of Limerick. I saw it in my own village, what a send-off they gave me this morning. It put the hair standing on the back of my head.
“But we need everybody to be there when we do come back with the cup in March or April when the vaccine has been rolled out. We’ll get everybody into the Gaelic Grounds and we’ll have one hell of a party then!”
The Limerick party is in full flow in Croker right now with scenes at the full-time whistle and Declan Hannon’s superb speech setting the tone, and Kiely echoed his captain’s words in summing up his own emotions.
“It’s just incredible, it’s unbelievable. The second time in three years, it’s just an amazing achievement. It took so long to win the one in ’18, you know that you’re so lucky to be there and to have that at the time.
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Celebrations in full flow.
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“We knew after that that it might take us a good number of years to get back here again but listen, we’re back. We took our chance It’s all about getting yourself opportunities and we took our opportunity when we got it.”
Kiely heaped praise on his players, who were ruthless throughout in their scoring and link-up play, which ultimately put the Déise to the sword.
“Listen, the boys worked so, so hard. I was so proud of the way they worked. We came into this game knowing that we had to be ruthless and we had to be clinical in our work-rate.
“We were resolute in defence, we always had somebody back there that was going to cut it out, hold them up. Our tackling was fantastic, our intensity levels were through the roof and when we were going forward we were very composed on the ball, we retained the ball very well but most of all we worked really hard, and that really stood out for me today.”
And he also had some kind words for goalkeeper Nickie Quaid, who was rock solid between the posts, keeping Liam Cahill’s men at bay when they went for goals with points on.
Listen, Nickie Quaid for the last decade has just been immense for Limerick. Immense.
“It’s incredible. You think he works hard on the pitch during game time, you should see him in training. He’s just a phenomenal player, as all the keepers are. They’re in training an hour before the rest of the group and they work so, so hard.
“I’m delighted for Timmy Hoolahan, their coach, he did a fantastic job with them.”
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