Limerick manager, John Kiely
Young and blond and energetic, David O’Sullivan had been working for five years in the Newpark Hotel on the Castlecomer Road when he went to the 1973 All-Ireland final to cheer on his native Limerick.
He travelled with the head chef from the hotel, a Clarecastle man, and sat in the lower Hogan Stand. At the final whistle he managed to execute a delicate bellydancing manoeuvre, getting himself through the wire in front of the stand and onto the field to celebrate Limerick’s first MacCarthy Cup triumph in 33 years. It had been quite the wait.
He still remembers – who that was there doesn’t? – the rain that day. “I got absolutely drowned.” And he still remembers spending half an hour walking around the sacred sod, hugging or shaking hands with every Limerick supporter he could find, “people I never saw before or since”.
Mr O’Sullivan couldn’t make it to Shannonside for the triumphal homecoming on the Monday night so he did the next best thing. He went down John Street to the non-triumphal homecoming for Kilkenny and paid his respects.
Such sportsmanship deserved better reward over the decades that followed. It didn’t happen. There was 1974, when Kilkenny had their revenge. There was 1980, when Limerick were beaten by Galway. There was the double disaster of 1994 and ’96. There was 2007, when the men in green were no match for a Kilkenny side just beginning to roar.
David O’Sullivan got wet in 1973. He’s spent the intervening years getting wet in a very different way. But Limerick’s day of deliverance may be at hand at last. It has been quite the wait.
If Galway are favourites and deserve to be, their opponents are underdogs in with a really big shout. There are any number of reasons why.
John Kiely’s men are playing thoughtful, intelligent hurling. They’ve lost only one match in normal time all season, so they’re admirably consistent. They came from behind in the closing stages to beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final and Cork in the semi-final, so they’re capable of performing under the severest pressure. They’re young but they have a track record of under-age success.
This youthfulness does not imply lack of heft, as youthfulness often does. If Galway are the biggest and strongest team in the land, Limerick are the second biggest and second strongest. The MacCarthy Cup holders possess six forwards who can win their own ball and do something with it. The challengers possess five, and the sixth, Graeme Mulcahy, is in the scoring form of his life.
May the champions’ experience and the challengers’ inexperience count for something? Of course.
Then again, consider what Tom Murphy of the Rower-Inistioge, later Canon Tom Murphy, PP in Ballyragget, had to say about the 1963 All-Ireland final, when a young Kilkenny team went in as underdogs against a Waterford bunch who’d been around the block since 1957.
He was a rookie corner-forward, with Tom Walsh a rookie in the other corner. Were they bothered? Ha!
“We were young. We had no fear. I’d have had a lot more fear a few years later when I knew the consequences of failure.”
Tom Murphy duly scored 2-1, Tom Walsh hit two goals and someone else contributed 0-14 as Waterford were floored by 4-17 to 6-8. So yes, young teams can win All-Irelands.
As for David O’Sullivan, he’s quietly optimistic about next Sunday. But he was impressed with the way Galway saw off Clare and he’s expecting a huge performance from the champions. After all, being a Limerick supporter he’s conditioned to expect the worst.
Still, 45 years on from the day the heavens opened, he’s due an afternoon in the sun at last.