Limerick claimed a first ever Munster U20 Hurling title on Wednesday evening at Tipperary’s expense.
Watching the contest in the TUS Gaelic Grounds on Wednesday evening, most would have been forgiven for mistaking the men in green as the Limerick senior hurlers.
Because that’s what they are in stature, men.
Diarmuid Mullins U20s made history, becoming the first Shannonside team to claim the Munster U20 title since its inception in 2019, after failing at the same stage in 2021.
Mullins’ fourth Munster final in charge of Limerick in as many years yielded a third title with Jimmy Quilty climbing the steps of the Mackey Stand to accept the JJ Kenneally Cup.
Quilty, who rectified the wrongs of 2021 in his second year of captain, lifted the trophy to the cheers of his peers, many of whom who are destined for greatness at the next level.
In his post match interview following the win over Cork in the second round of the championship, Mullins was asked about his opinions on the controversial rule that saw Cathal O’Neill miss the remainder of the U20 championship after featuring for the seniors.
In a calm manner, the secondary school principle highlighted his ideas but alluded to his working relationship with current senior manager John Kiely as they share four players across the panels.
O’Neill is joined by Adam English, Colin Coughlan and Paddy O’Donovan in representing the seniors at some level this year.
While the latter has been dogged by injury, he did clip over a point on his return in the final while English had 1-2 to his name by the final whistle, the goal a piece of magic. Enough positive words have been written by this author on Coughlan in previous articles to indulge more.
But outside of the players used, there is a definitive way of playing hurling that has arguably been perfected by Kiely’s men but is rapidly being honed by the U20 charges.
Their style of play is eerily similar to their senior counterparts and that is led by those within the senior ranks but also added to by their teammates, with the role of Mullins and Kiely clearly central to that.
One obvious example of this is centre back Ethan Hurley who continues to add to his burgeoning reputation as a #6, akin to one Declan Hannon.
Obviously, there is no other like the Adare man, but if you were looking for a long term replacement, Hurley’s development will be particularly pleasing.
Outside him, Coughlan adds a scoring presence from defence like a hybrid version of a Kyle Hayes and Diarmuid Byrnes mix.
On the other wing, Cian Scully bellies his young age in his first year out of minor with the 18-year-old continuing in the form that saw him collect a Croke Cup medal on St Patricks Day. Naturally more at home in the centre, there could be an intriguing battle for that spot down the line with Hurley, not too different to the current abundance of riches in defence in the senior squad.
And while like the senior team, the wing back line is the launchpad, the work of the wing forwards is equally important.
Adam English’s pace is scary and his accuracy is off the charts when in form. Undoubtedly, he’s ready for the big time but last night it was his industry in the second half that stood out as he worked tirelessly.
And while his efficiency waned, Aidan O’Connor stood up in the scoring stakes, nailing 0-9 on the night, with three of those coming from placed balls. Anyone that has seen him for club or county underage squads over the years will be far from surprised with O’Connor a scoring machine.
But like the semi-final, it was his ability to win the dirty ball when most needed that shone. Beside them, Eddie Stokes was the quietest but his contribution no less important with the Doon man another unheralded gem on the team.
Outside of those lines, there are so many others who embody the best of those in the equivalent senior jersey. Chris Thomas, already one of the best defenders in the county, has added a scoring touch, giving the best of Sean Finn and Barry Nash.
Fergal O’Connor was dominant at full back once again, not too dissimilar to Mike Casey or Dan Morrissey. At the other end of the field, Shane O’Brien, another in his first year out of minor, added five more from play, taking his tally for the semi and finals to 0-10, rekindling memories of Aaron Gillane in the same venue a fortnight ago.
Elsewhere, the Kirby brothers continued in their father’s legacy, Evan O’Leary enhanced his reputation at corner back, Donnacha O’Dalaigh was a constant threat while Quilty was once more O’Donoghue-esque.
Add in cameos from O’Donovan, Brian O’Meara, Patrick Reale to name a few, injuries to sure fire starters Diarmuid Hegarty and Liam Lynch as well as Cathal O’Neill’s absence and the standard in this squad is scary.
No doubt, you could dissect the performance of every individual but a final word for Conor Hanley Clarke. His reputation with the sliotar and hurl is well renowned and while he was a scoring star from the bench en route to a Munster club final, his interventions in goal against Clare saved Limerick when they were on the brink.
He has barely put a foot wrong since.
Rumour has it, Kiely’s current shot stopper isn’t bad out the field for his club either.
Obviously, not all players will make the step up such is life, and so many more will make a break as they get older, but the reading is certainly positive.
There is now a defined Limerick hurling DNA, far removed from the ‘unlimited heartbreak’, with winning quickly becoming the norm.
Every year, the work of those involved in ‘Lifting the Treaty’, the Academy and all who reinvigorated Limerick hurling, is bearing fruit.
Famines that were once decades, are now lengthy when breaching a couple of years, long may it continue.