By Cian O’Connell
Exciting times for Limerick
On the hallowed Semple Stadium turf thousands of Limerick supporters were celebrating, talking about the bright future that exists in the south west.
Manager Pat Donnelly stood surrounded by a string of reporters, fully aware that the excitement is palpable in Limerick.
Donnelly acknowledged that this crop of hurlers has the talent and temperament to deliver at the highest level. “If you go back over the years and look at the player profiles on All-Ireland senior final day, they all have minor, Under 21 and Fitzgibbon medals,” Donnelly remarked.
“All our lads have them now so there is no reason why Limerick can’t go on and be successful at senior level. The foundation is there.
“These are lads that will play with confidence. Minding them for the next couple of years is the big thing. We won Under 21s before in the early noughties. The lessons have been learned from then. These lads will keep their feet on the ground.”
Limerick are no strangers to the winners enclosure in the Under 21 grade.
Donnelly alluded to the splendid collection of players that produced in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
Turning that promise and potential into glory at senior is the next task that will be embraced, but two All Irelands in three years is a notable achievement. Senior boss John Kiely was in charge in 2015 and knows what calibre of performer is being crafted.
One thing is for certain, though. All those Saturday mornings spent with the Academy system in UL means Limerick are producing nimble and nifty hurlers.
The stickwork of Cian Lynch, Barry Nash, Aaron Gillane, and Peter Casey in attack. Ronan Lynch mining three frees from deep. Robbie Hanley and Colin Ryan dovetailing nicely at centrefield. Encouraging nuggets were available everywhere and that is why Limerick left Thurles hopeful and heartened.
Kilkenny suffer another Under 21 Final defeat
From an early stage it was apparent that Kilkenny were in some distress.
Limerick, backed by a chilly breeze, had thundered into the contest with Aaron Gillane efficient inside.
Kilkenny were playing catch-up and manager Eddie Brennan made substitions and switches in an effort to disturb the favourites.
There was nothing wrong with Kilkenny’s spirit and how they narrowed the gap to four late on was the mark of a true striped team.
In the closing stages Limerick had a couple of questions to answer, but they had sufficient composure and class to reply.
Since 2008, Kilkenny have lost All Ireland Under 21 deciders in 2009, 2012, and 2017. Considering St Kieran’s triumphs and Kilkenny CBS competitiveness at Post Primary level, Kilkenny continue to produce accomplished players.
Kieran’s have won five All Ireland titles in seven years between 2010 and 2016 before losing to Our Lady’s Templemore in 2017, Kilkenny CBS contested four deciders recently.
Next spring it will be interesting to see who is chosen to audition in the Allianz Hurling League for Kilkenny.
Silverware for Kerry
A well contested Under 21 B decider was ultimately decided by Kerry’s greater attacking punch.
Michael Boland had flared to prominence with two smartly taken goals for Wicklow, but Kerry’s trio of Maurice O’Connor, Shane Conway, and Jack Goulding were influential.
Conway was precise from frees accumulating 1-6, O’Connor struck an opportunistic major, while Goulding rifled over three points including a sweet sideline cut.
Kerry senior manager Fintan O’Connor was a selector and will look to integrate some of this victorious outfit into the senior ranks in 2018.
Wicklow’s Seamus Murphy and Michael Neary are carrying out quiet, but very effective work. A solid campaign in the Christy Ring Cup ensures there is some optimism in Wicklow and building on a satisfactory year is what they will be striving to do.
Former Waterford selector O’Connor is a shrewd operator too and will be keen to keep Kerry relevant.