A familiar face reigned supreme as the 2020 Limerick Senior Football Championship went the way of Adare who picked up a third crown since their maiden triumph in 2017.
They had far too much for Ballylanders in the final in a championship that very much mirrored the hurling championship.
After handing out the Senior Hurling awards a couple of weeks back, I now present the football equivalent.
Again, to clarify I did not see each game but from what I did and from conversing with others, I reached the following conclusions.
Paul Maher (Adare)
As the outstanding team of the competition, Adare had a number of standout players during their run to a third championship title. The Fr Caseys game aside, the defence has been almost rock solid as they conceded just a single goal with the Connolly brothers David and Ronan, Shane Doherty key. At the other end, they have so much firepower in the likes of the Lyon’s brothers, Mark Connolly, Shane Costello and Shane O’Connor.
However, it is the middle third players who stood out, namely Paul Maher, Hugh Bourke and Robbie Bourke. The latter has moved into a kind of quarterback role for the team having played in the full forward line in recent years. His brother Hugh is one of the most gifted players in the county and will be crucial to Billy Lee’s side (should they finish their season). His brace of goals in the final add to the one he got against Galbally early in the semi-final.
I would pluck for Maher who has moved his game up another notch. He has made his name as a corner back for the county team where he is now a guaranteed starter and brilliant man marker. However, for Adare he is further up the field and has added a ball-carrying ability to his game which was so evident in his Man of the Match performance in the county final. He played a pivotal role in nullifying Iain Corbett in the quarter-final and at just 22?, there is so much more to come from him.
Best Young Player
Killian Meade (Ballylanders)
It was a vintage year for young players in the Limerick SFC. After a year out through injury, Eoin O’Mahony returned to the Ballylanders team where he excelled in the middle of the park and was one of the main reasons for their journey to the final. In Fr Caseys, there is a young core coming through as is with the case in Ballysteen with Cillian Ferris and Darragh Ranahan in particular rising to new heights. Seamus Hurley and Diarmuid Kelly have nailed down starting berths for Newcastle West.
However, each of those have had experience of the top tier before with Killian Meade of Ballylanders taking to Senior football with minimal fuss. The half back was signalled prior to the county final due to his comments as a 13 year old in the match programme for the 2014 final about representing his club in the county final. Six years later, he was instrumental in helping his side to the decider with a bright future ahead for the tenacious defender.
Hugh Bourke v Ballylanders (LSFC Final)
Admittedly, there are a number of goals that I hadn’t the priviledge of seeing. However, one that I was lucky enough to see and one that sums up the championship was Hugh Bourke’s sublime first goal against Ballylanders in the county final.
Adare won the ball deep in their own half through Robbie Bourke as he intercepted a long ball from Ballylanders. Almost a minute and 12 passes later and Adare had the ball in the back of the Ballylanders net. Adare played the ball around patiently before Mikie Lyons set Bourke free.
With the ball getting past Bourke, he struck it first time with his right boot into the top corner giving the Ballylanders netminder no chance.
A goal to sum up Adare’s brilliant mix of precision and power.
Adare v Newcastle West (SFC Quarter-Final)
As it was in 2019, the meeting of Adare and Newcastle West in Mick Neville Park was the standout tie of the season. While Newcastle dethroned the champions the previous year, this time it was Adare’s turn to upset the pre-match favourites. And while they haven’t met in the final since 2017, this year’s meeting in the quarter final was a quick reminder that these are the standard bearers in Limerick football.
Shane O’Connor goaled early on for Adare but the champions to their credit rallied and a run of scores had them 1-2 to 0-7 ahead leading into the half. However, Adare would strike four on the bounce to take a 1-6 to 0-7 lead into the break. Adare were reduced to 14 with captain Shane Doherty sent to the bin but Adare never panicked and increased their advantage during their numerical disadvantage to lead by a goal at the final water break.
The reintroduction of Mikie Lyons would prove crucial as they outscored Newcastle 0-4 to 0-2 down the stretch to move into the semi-finals and knock out the defending champions. From here they never looked unlikely not to regain the crown they lost twelve months previously.
Fr Caseys win over Adare
In hindsight this game counts for little but at the time, Fr Casey’s five point win over Adare sent out a statement across the competition that the Abbeyfeale side would have a huge bearing in the championship. As it turned out, Ballysteen outclassed Fr Caseys in the quarters while Adare regrouped to storm to the title.
Nonetheless, the win should not be overlooked as a huge positive for Fr Caseys who blooded a number of young players during the championship. They showed real glimpses of improvement in round one of the championship against Na Piarsaigh but the Adare performance gave an indication to where they were at. To be fair they came up against a Ballysteen side who gave a total performance in the last eight stage.
However, ask the Adare faithful and they will care little for the second round reversal such was the conclusion of their campaign.
The final four teams left in the competition
You would be hard pushed to find someone that would have predicted that the semi-finalists would consist of Adare, Ballylanders, Galbally and Ballysteen. Adare would have been favoured to be there, while a case would have been made for Ballylanders despite their abysmal 2019. However, few would have fancied Ballysteen to come out of their side of the group that featured Newcastle West, Fr Caseys, Drom and Na Piarsaigh with the same for Galbally alongside Monaleen, Oola, St Kierans and Galtee Gaels.
Yet, each were there on merit and incidentally all four finished second in their respective groups.Adare have been spoken about at length, but Ballylanders were much improved in 2020 and had a very bad day at the office against an exceptional Adare side. Galbally, in their sophomore year at the grade were excellent and gave the eventual champions plenty to think about in the final. Ballysteen were somewhat fortunate to reach the knockout stages but put in one of the best performances of the year against heavy favourites Fr Caseys to book a place in the semi-final.
On the whole it bodes well for Limerick football to see unheralded teams perform so well and it promises for an exciting 2021 championship.
Again, it is probably too early to look towards to 2021 but like Na Piarsaigh in the hurling, Adare are the team to beat, with their win in the final an ominous sign for the chasing pack. They don’t stand to lose any players to retirement for some time and their squad depth seems at a high.
Newcastle look best placed to usurp them at the top given the margin of Adare’s win over the Magpie’s. I still believe on their day that Newcastle are unmatched but in 2021 they will have the added pressure of Premier Intermediate Hurling.
Ballylanders failed to show up in the final but will learn from the defeat, as they did in 2018 with a new crop slowly creeping into the side.
Likewise Ballysteen and Galbally both reached semi-finals and will be keen to build on those games.
Monaleen started brightly but fell somewhat surprisingly to Ballylanders in the quarters, as did last year’s finalists Oola to Galbally.
St Kierans had a terrible year by their standards and will look to right the wrongs of this year as will Na Piarsaigh who were in relegation trouble once again.
Newly promoted Claughaun will be keen to make up for lost time and with a club of their stature, who’s to say they cannot follow in Adare’s footsteps.
However, it is hard to see past Adare and Newcastle West already with a fifth consecutive crown likely to head West.