IT was 40 years ago this summer when Limerick hurling finally showed signs of recovery, and hopes sprung aloud throughout the county that perhaps finally we might have a team that would see our proud hurling tradition hoist the Liam McCarthy Cup anew, a feat we hadn't completed since the great "Mick Mackey" and gang did it for us back in 1940.
While they were impressive en route to that year's Munster final, they were matched against a Tipperary team that had powered through the 1960s being regarded by many a hurling enthusiast as being the greatest hurling team of all time.
Needless to state, of course, that Tipperary were huge favorites on the day.
The game was played at a drenched Fitzgerald Park in Killarney, and because of the poor playing conditions nothing much was expected in the way of style or, for that matter, scoring.
Tipp and Limerick are bitter rivals when it comes to hurling, and the poor playing conditions were quickly tossed aside from the onset. It was tit-for-tat and score for score, with neither team willing to give an inch.
There were periods of the first half when Tipp looked rattled, and it seemed noticeable to those in the stands that Tipperary had greatly underestimated the hurling prowess of their upstart neighbors.
Babs Keating will mostly be remembered for his amazing heroics in that year's All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, when in the closing stages of that game he kicked off his shoes and socks to the sidelines. Babs was absolutely brilliant against Limerick in the second half, and he gave an exhibition on how the great game should be played by showing both firepower and deft skill, along with an unyielding willingness for victory. He ended the game with a very impressive final scoring tally of 3-4.
The game will also be long remembered for its climactic finish. Both teams were still locked together when Tipperary were awarded a 70 ( 65 ).
When Francis Loughnane, the great sharp shooter from Roscrea, stepped up to take the 70, the referee told him that this was to be the final play of the game. The rain was pelting down and Francis was summoned to the sideline and asked that he get a towel to dry his hurley.
A Tipp mentor then ran onto the pitch and took Loughnane's hurley from him and started to dry it. Everyone in the park saw the towel drop to the pitch, but what everyone didn't see was the dry sliothar being dropped beneath the towel and the soggy one that would never have made it 70 yards being picked up along with the towel.
Loughnane proceeded to bend and lift, and he struck the dry ball dead center of the posts and Tipp were victorious with the final score Tipperary 4-16 to Limerick's 3-18.
The year 1971 is still known in Munster as being the one of the dry ball. I was 11 years old when that match was played.
Growing up in east Limerick and not a stone's throw from the Tipperary border, it was a bitter pill to swallow, especially knowing how the game ended. For many years I looked upon that day with scorn and with not much respect for my Tipperary neighbors.
It was years later, when I grew to realize the genius that it took to orchestrate such a cunning move, and it was then when I figured out that the mark of a champion is not always shrouded with honor.
That was 40 years ago. Where have the years gone to?
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