Two-time Clare All-Ireland winner and Sky Sports analyst Jamesie O’Connor tells Damian Dolan that while this could be Limerick’s time, beware the Tribesmen
Jamesie O’Connor knows what it’s like to carry the burden of history on his shoulders. When O’Connor helped Clare to All-Ireland success in 1995, it ended the Banner’s 81-year wait to get their hands on the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
When Limerick run out at Croke Park on Sunday they’ll do so looking to wipe out 45 years of hurt, during which time they were beaten finalists in 2007, 1996, 1994, 1980 and 1974.
But for O’Connor, the weight of history won’t be a factor for this Limerick team. Success at Under 21, Minor, club (with Na Piarsaigh) and even university and college level, has groomed a generation of Treaty hurlers without fear and well capable of delivering the biggest prize of all.
While they have yet to get their hands on Liam, they won a Munster title in 2013 (ending a 17-year wait) and were beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists in 2013 and 2014. They’re “accustomed to success”.
“They’ve been building; they may not have been a force last year or in 2016, but people will have felt that ‘these guys are coming’. The talent pool is there,” O’Connor told the Irish World.
“And when Limerick are at their best, they’re always hard to beat. Traditionally they’re a team very few counties relish playing.”
History is for the scribes, more important for O’Connor, will be staying with the Tribesmen early on in Sunday’s final, or run the risk of being blown away by Joe Canning and Co.
Michael O’Donoghue’s side have shown a liking for a fast start. But they’ve also displayed a fallibility for throwing away first half leads – twice against Clare they surrendered nine-point leads, while they were eight up on Kilkenny in Round 2 of Leinster.
In the Leinster final, they raced into a 1-9 to 0-1 lead after 19 minutes against the Cats. They eventually won by seven.
If Limerick can ride out the expected early storm, and stay with the reigning All-Ireland champions, then this could finally be the time of the Treaty County.
O’Connor added: “Limerick will be confident that if they’re there in the last quarter that they have every chance. They’ve won matches late, they’ve shown the composure to come back.
“Galway know what it takes having won it last year, but I don’t think Limerick are weighed down in any way shape or form by the baggage of the past. They’re keen on writing their own history.”
Against Cork, John Kiely’s side trailed Cork by six points with just nine minutes remaining, only to turn it around.
While the response to Richie Hogan’s late goal was magnificent – outscoring the black and amber 0-5 to 0-1 in the closing stages of their quarter-final.
That gave the Treaty their first championship win over Kilkenny since 1973 – the year they last lifted the Liam MacCarthy. An omen perhaps?
“If you’re Galway, you don’t want to be leaving Limerick late in this game, considering the energy they’re going to bring, which makes it more intriguing,” said O’Connor.
“Galway will be looking to get on top early, and not take their foot off the opposition’s neck as they probably did with Kilkenny and Clare.
“Limerick will certainly feel that if this game is there with 10-15 minutes to go, that they’ll have the greater energy, and that they have the guys who can come off the bench and win it for them.”
Peter Casey, Shane Dowling, Pat Ryan and William O’Donoghue can all “get to the pace of the game and make a difference”, as they did against Cork, when Limerick’s bench contributed 2-6.
It was also Limerick who inflicted Galway’s first defeat in 16 games as the Treaty sealed promotion to Division 1A back in March. Limerick coming from nine points down to beat Galway in their own backyard, Pearse Stadium.
Not championship, but in the same way that the Tribesmen will draw on having been there and done it in an All-Ireland final, Kiely’s men ca look to that victory.
But Galway have “done it before”. They are champions. While their performances this year have been described as “patchy” and leads squandered, each time they’ve faced adversity they’ve found a way to get over the line.
Someone has always stood up. Against Clare, it was Canning, as he has so often before. You write off Galway at your peril.
“There’s no doubt about it, they haven’t flowed or been as impressive, certainly in the last month, as they were in 2017,” said O’Connor.
“Conor Cooney was excellent last year, an All Star. He’s struggled for form. Some of their other forwards form has been patchy.
“But when the questions have been asked, and Kilkenny asked them in the Leinster final replay and Clare in the two semi-finals, they’ve still been able to summon a response. Some of their key players have come to the fore.
“Every time Clare drew level they were able to get the next score and keep their noses in front. That’s the sign of a good team and a team that are playing like champions.
“They still have a higher ceiling than Limerick and if they can get close to it they’re good enough to win.”
Remember, you can now catch this weekend’s GAA action on Sky Sports Arena as well as via streaming service NOW TV.