Rea revels in rennaissance of Limerick hurling
Friday 22 February 2019

By John Harrington

Whenever a GAA journalist rang Eamonn ‘Ned’ Rea looking for an interview last summer he was happy to talk on one proviso – there would be no mention of Limerick’s All-Ireland win of 1973.

That was the very topic most of them were ringing to talk about – Limerick’s long wait for an All-Ireland since last winning it in ’73 – but Rea wasn’t interested.

The last thing he wanted to do was heap any extra pressure on a young Limerick hurling team trying to end that famine, or to bask in faded glories when everyone in the county was so animated about the exciting young team of the present.

He’s happy to talk about ’73 again now that it’s no longer topical for being Limerick’s last senior All-Ireland title.

People are less interested in hearing about it now for the same reasons, but that suits him fine too because he’d much prefer to talk about the county’s current hurling heroes and that emotional dam-bursting moment the final whistle blew in last year’s All-Ireland Final against Galway.

“I could have cried all night,” said Rea when speaking at the launch of the ‘How to Age Well’ seminars, a joint initiative between the GAA and TILDA.

“I didn’t but, I mean, I could have. You’d have to be from Limerick to appreciate and be waiting as long as we were waiting to appreciate.

“I stood where I was down there and I didn’t leave until the cup was gone. I wanted to absorb it and savour it for as long as possible. It was fantastic.

“It was an absolute brilliant occasion and a brilliant year.

“We always dreamed we might win it, but the way they played all year and since then, the happiness it’s brought all of Limerick and Limerick people living all over the world.

“What it meant was amazing.

“I was at the Listowel Races afterwards and everyone from Limerick was wearing jersies rather than jackets.

“I went into the bar to meet someone and I never got to back a horse because I kept meeting people who wanted to talk about how we won it.”

The 1973 All-Ireland winning Limerick hurling team. Ned Rea is pictured on the far right of the back row.
The 1973 All-Ireland winning Limerick hurling team. Ned Rea is pictured on the far right of the back row.
Limerick’s form so far this year suggests they’re entirely capable of retaining the All-Ireland title this year.

Rea’s Limerick team fell just short of that achievement themselves when they were beaten in the 1974 All-Ireland Final, but by then many of their key players were coming towards the end of their careers.

Rea says hurling is “in an awful lot of a better place in Limerick now than it was when we won”. The current team certainly looked in rude health when they put Kilkenny to the sword in Nowlan Park last Sunday.

“The whole scene, it’s a different era,” said Rea. “Lots of counties, when they won, they enjoyed the win but they never thought what’s going to happen five years down the line and in fairness to Limerick, they started off with the Academy and Jerry McManus set that up and that’s been amazing.

“An awful lot of guys who won last year came through that. Definitely the set up in Limerick now is brilliant and the future is brilliant and they really have it well organised.

“The players are coming in, there’s 40 players on the panel and the 36th guy or 38th guy could be playing next Sunday. There was six fellas on the team last Sunday starting that didn’t start last August. They slotted into the system and they did very well.”

Barry Murphy in action for Limerick against Kilkenny in last Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League Division 1 clash at Nowlan Park.
Barry Murphy in action for Limerick against Kilkenny in last Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League Division 1 clash at Nowlan Park.
The stand-out moment of Limerick’s win over Kilkenny, and one that sums up the hugely effective style of play of this team, was Barry Murphy’s second-half point that put them 14 ahead when they worked the ball from deep in their own defence with a series of perfectly timed short-passes.

“That was an amazing point,” said Rea. “In my day, the golden rule was get a ball out of the square first, out of the danger area and when you get it, get it up the field as fast as you possibly can, get it up there and get it out of here.

“Nowadays a corner-back is hitting it out to a half-back or a midfielder, maybe a full-back. In my time, if you passed the ball back to the goalkeeper you were liable to be taken off.

“The amount of pass backs to the goalkeeper now and across the square, anything could happen but they’re quite confident of doing that. I mean a pass years ago would be a nice easy soft one. Now a pass is bang!

“Another issue with last Sunday is Limerick’s chasing. Barry Murphy got a point, a puckout that went to Tommy Walsh and Tommy Walsh had plenty of time and Barry Murphy chased him, dispossessed him, went a few yards, bang, over the bar.

“That was an amazing point as well. Even at the end, before the final whistle, there was four or five Limerick guys chasing the ball as hard as they were in the first minute. The competition in the panel, when they get a chance in the first 15, they want to stay there.”

Such is the highly competitive nature of inter-county hurling at the highest level right now that making hard and fast predictions in February about who will win the All-Ireland Final is a fool’s game.

One thing you can surely say with a good degree of certainty about Limerick hurling, though, is that they won’t have to wait another 45 years for their next All-Ireland title.

“No, I don’t think so from the point of view, they’re so better organised, there’s lessons learned from the past,” said Rea.

“The Academy down there is working brilliantly, there’s great people involved down there. The management team is fantastic. John Kiely has a fantastic team around him.

“We’re in a good place right now.”

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