Limerick won their seventh All-Ireland U21 last Saturday after a comprehensive victory over the Eddie Brennan managed Cats. Heading into the game there was little to choose between the sides. Kilkenny steamrolled through Leinster before putting Derry to the sword in the semi final, winning by an incredible 52 points. Limerick on the other hand were imperious in Munster before a nail-biting semi-final against Galway where they won by two-points after a late burst of scoring.
As things panned out on Saturday, Limerick were deserved winners, dominating the game from the first whislte and eventually winning out by six points, 0-17 to 0-11. Aaron Gillane recieved most of the plaudits after the game with his scoring exploits throughout the year one of the main factors in Limerick’s championship run. However, in defence one man stood tallest and that was Kildimo/Pallaskenry’s Kyle Hayes.
Hayes was a pillar of strength all year at centre back and was a man of the match contender once more on Saturday. The towering youngster was key down the final stretches on Saturday, fielding a number of dangerous balls into the Limerick defence as Kilkenny sought a goal. Hayes was captain of the Limerick minor side last year who were beaten in the All-Ireland decider by Tipp. This loss was hugely motivational for Hayes who we spoke to directly after the game.
“Exhillerating, long time coming. We lost there in the minor last year and ever since been looking forward to it.”
It’;s different opposition but still it’s an All Ireland final we felt we should have won. Today we felt we’d do everything we can just to get the victory.”
At half time, Limerick lead by seven points but knew that Kilkenny would have the aid of a strong breeze in the second period. To their credit to Limerick, they did not let Kilkenny score between the 27th and 42nd minute as they closed in on victory. When asked what was said at half-time Hayes replied,
“Basically just to keep the workrate up. The forwards were doing savage work. Just keep putting their backs under pressure and the ball up wasn’t perfect because their forwards are very dangerous if they got the right ball.”
Kilkenny did begin to cause danger for Limerick in the final fifteen minutes as a number of Alan Murphy frees closed the deficit to four points inside the final 10 minutes. Yet Limerick held strong and in particular Hayes shone. A number of time he broke down Kilkenny attacks with his prowess in the air and also prevented what looked like a certain goal with an interception five yeards from his own goal. When asked what the message was from players and management in the closing stages Hayes said,
“Smart play really, slow down the puckouts and stuff. In fairness to Eoin Mc(Namara) he’s clever like.”
In his first season in the senior ranks, Hayes was one of Limerick’s better players in a somewhat disappointing year that ended without a victory. After bagging 1-1 against Clare in the Munster championship, he chipped in with a number of scores against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park as Limerick were knocked out of the Senior championship. Motivation wasclearly high for a number of the players who played that day including Sean Finn, Cian Lynch and Peter Casey who all started the games in Nowlan Park and Thurles.
“Ah definitely, up in Nowlan Park we were absolutely devastated. We felt we should have came out with a win so it’s great one back on them.”
With the underage system in Limerick finally beginnig to reap rewards, their is much optimism in the county that these group of players can be the ones to end the famine in Limerick hurling and bring the Liam McCarthy cup back to Shannonsiders. This is a sentiment echoed by Hayes.
“Yeah, hopefully in a few years we can push on and get a senior one.”