It was a long time coming and the wait clearly made the victory all the sweeter as thousands of Limerick fans descended onto the Gaelic Grounds pitch to salute their heroes as the final whistle sounded on Sunday’s Munster SHC final.
A first provincial title since 1996 was secured on a 0-24 to 0-15 scoreline in a game that saw Cork never really recover from a straight red card issued to Pat Horgan on the stroke of halftime.
The fans could barely contain their excitement as referee James McGrath prepared to blow his final whistle.
Those Limerick fans at a sell-out Gaelic Grounds had seen the sides go in on level terms, at 0-10 apiece, at the break but Cork retreated to their dressing room a man down after McGrath sent Horgan off for striking Paudie O’Brien across the back of the head as they contested an aerial ball.
The numerical advantage proved crucial for John Allen’s side who outscored their rivals by 0-14 to 0-5 in the second-half to seal an historic win, one that was greeted with delirium by the home fans and players alike.
Man of the match James Ryan was still in wonderland as he spoke to the media afterwards and explained how much the win meant for all concerned.
“It is all new to us, five weeks of the fans getting hyper and the adrenaline pumping and things like that. So it was hard to get use to but it was just getting to the match, getting to the day, today finally came and, look, it worked out,” Ryan said.
“I’d say it was the best feeling I ever had in my life, the fans were nearly in on top of the ball. It was a real team effort.”
Like many observers, Ryan agreed that the red card played a huge role in the outcome.
“I thought we didn’t play great in the first half but the second half we really kicked on. The extra man really helped there. I know psychologically from being out there myself when they’d get a ball or win a great ball in the full-back line they would hit it up the field and our spare man was just getting it,” he said
“It absolutely killed them so it was definitely a big help without a doubt.”
The All-Ireland semifinals are next for Ryan and Limerick.
“Look, we’re a county that’s starved of success, we haven’t won a Munster since ’96. We’re hoping to be competitive and get into these finals more often and inspire the next generation and that’s what we’ve hopefully done today and that’s why the fans are so happy,” Ryan said.
Victory was sweet for Cork-born Limerick boss John Allen, whose influence was hailed by forward Declan Hannon after the game.
Hannon said, “I couldn’t talk more highly about him. He might have come in for a bit of criticism after the league final not getting out of the Division 1B but clearly Dublin are a good side.”
Allen, who previously guided his native Cork to two Munster titles, enjoyed catching his home county by surprise on Sunday.
He said, “We played Cork twice this year in challenge games and the last time they got five goals against us. I think psychologically they would have felt coming in that no matter what happened they would be better than us.”
Allen now believes the sky is the limit for this Limerick squad.
“I was trying to tell my players all along how good they were because I certainly believe they’re very good and when I see what they’re doing off the field, what they’re doing in the gym and what they’re eating and not eating I knew that we were right for today,” he said.
Cork will appeal the red card issued to Horgan. Selector Kieran Kingston said, “I thought the decision to send Patrick off was absolutely extraordinary. Paudie O’Brien himself told Patrick, on the phone, he went down with a blow to the face from the ball, not from the impact of the hurley.
“The referee’s report goes in and we can appeal and we will certainly be doing that.”
Dubs Too Strong for Meath
DUBLIN boss Jim Gavin will thank Meath for the wake-up call if his team go on to regain the All-Ireland football crown this summer.
The Dubs duly completed the Leinster hurling and football double when Gavin’s team saw off Meath by 2-15 to 0-14 at Croke Park on Sunday.
But victory only came about for the Dubs after a second half resurgence prompted by the shock of trailing the Division Three side by two points at halftime.
It was Dublin’s eighth Leinster title in nine years, but Gavin acknowledged that it was hard work.
He said, “The Dublin players showed great heart and resolve and commitment throughout the full 70 minutes of the game. They held their discipline and held their composure and stuck with the game plan and kept trying, trying to put in practice what we’ve done on the training ground.
“There was some really hard questions asked by Meath of Dublin today and the players answered them all.”
Meath will now play Kildare or Tyrone in the qualifiers, with manager Mick O’Dowd still coming to terms with his first Leinster decider defeat in the hot seat.
He said, “I’m devastated after losing a Leinster final. We didn’t come here to get a heartening display, we came here to win a Leinster title. We didn’t do it. Our first half showed what we wanted to do, our second half didn’t.
“We have to get used to performing against teams of the caliber of Dublin and that’s the first time we have done it this year. We were really looking forward to that challenge.”
KILDARE will host Tyrone in the All-Ireland football qualifiers in Newbridge this Saturday when Galway host Armagh, Wexford entertain Laois and Cavan take on Derry in Celtic Park.
The final round of football qualifiers takes place the following weekend when the winners of the Kildare-Tyrone game play Meath in Croke Park in a double header that sees Galway or Armagh face Cork . . .
THE GAA will investigate ugly scenes at the end of Wexford’s win over Longford in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday night when players and officials from both teams clashed on the pitch.
Wexford manager Aidan O’Brien said, “It was absolutely awful and it is certainly something I wouldn’t condone.” . . .
LEITRIM bosses George Dugdale and Barney Breen have confirmed they are unlikely to seek another term in office after Saturday night’s huge 8-13 to 0-10 defeat to Armagh in the football qualifiers . . .
LIAM Dunne refused to discuss his future as Wexford manager after his team’s extra-time defeat to Clare in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday . . .
CORK play Kilkenny and Galway will meet Clare in an All-Ireland SHC quarterfinal double header at Semple Stadium on Sunday, July 28.