18 Aug 2022

Under-21 All-Ireland: maybe the time has come to do a bit of shouting and screaming

Under-21 All-Ireland: maybe the time has come to do a bit of shouting and screaming

Things didn't go well for the Kilkenny team managed by Eddie Brennan

Readers still depressed after Semple Stadium last Saturday may wish to take comfort from the following history lesson. Listen up, class.
In 1988 Kilkenny travelled to Birr to take on Cork in the All-Ireland under-21 final. They were defeated even more convincingly than this year’s iteration were by Limerick. The scoreboard at the end read Cork 4-11 Kilkenny 1-5.
Was that the start of something big for that particular group of Cork players? Not really.
John Fitzgibbon and Mark “2-7” Foley would go on to win All-Ireland senior medals in 1990, as would Cathal Casey. For a team that were such comprehensive under-21 champions, however, their output when it came to the adult arena was less than might have been expected. That’s the way it goes with under-age teams, as well we know.
Was it the end of the world for that particular group of Kilkenny players, none of whom were presumably ever heard of again following such a trimming? Not really.
No fewer than four of them – Willie O’Connor, Bill Hennessy, Liam Keoghan and Michael Phelan – would go on to bigger and better things. As late as 1997, indeed, Keoghan would be an All Star, and in 2000 O’Connor lifted the MacCarthy Cup.
Bottom line, you never can tell, which is why to assert that none of the losing team at Semple Stadium last Saturday will be troubling our consciousness in the senior arena in two or three years’ time is wildly premature.
Some days you lose to a better team and that’s all there is to be said. This was one of those days.
Limerick were stronger, hardier and more tempered. Their path to the final, and specifically the test that Galway gave them in the semi-final, had hardened them. Kilkenny’s path to the final hadn’t done the same, and hindsight isn’t required to state that the turkey shoot against Derry was exactly what they didn’t need.
You read here last week that Limerick’s very public desire to avenge their defeat in the 2014 All-Ireland minor final might go against them. It didn’t. They didn’t make the mistake of trying to replay that match. Instead they played the match in front of them and they played it on its merits.
On The Front Foot
By electing to start with the use of the near-gale – Eoghan McNamara’s first puckout landed beyond the Kilkenny 20-metre line – they were on the front foot from the off. They channelled good ball into their forward line and Aaron Gillane and Peter Casey did the rest.
Their seven-point advantage at the interval looked sufficient and it was. When Kilkenny didn’t manage to score for the first 12 minutes of the new half the jig was up. It took 48 minutes for them to manage two successive points, and even then Limerick finished the stronger.
Giving due credit to the winners – and there can be very few people reading who wouldn’t hope that the victory will play its part in eventually leading to the end of a senior famine that stretches back to 1973 – doesn’t mean absolving the losers. Not to put too fine a point on it, Eddie Brennan’s charges were dismal.
Granted, an element of this had to do with the vicious shower of rain that fell early on. Much of Kilkenny’s game was built around Richie Leahy winning possession and running with it, with colleagues coming off his shoulder to provide options. Given the greasy ball and soft underfoot conditions Leahy couldn’t get his game going at all. His team suffered as a consequence. Bar perhaps Huw Lawlor in the second half, there wasn’t a chap in stripes one could pick out as doing well.
This was the second time in a month a Kilkenny under-age team was beaten in the All-Ireland series. That’s not the worrying bit. The worrying bit is that this was the second time in a month a Kilkenny under-age team was beaten in the All-Ireland series having contributed little to the game. As with the minors against Galway, there were very few redeeming features about Saturday’s performance.
Three years ago Limerick lost the All-Ireland minor final but trained on. Kilkenny won that All-Ireland minor final but went backwards.
It’s now screamingly apparent that all is not well beneath the surface here. The next County Board meeting should be interesting. And if it isn’t, something is really wrong.

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