You can’t start a fire without a spark

Looking out onto the pitch after the final whistle Saturday evening you got the feeling that maybe, just maybe, the touch paper had been lit.

As I was making my way down the steps of the Ardan O’Riain a wave of Limerick Academy U-15 footballers ran across the immaculate Semple Stadium surface heading in the direction of new heroes in green and white.

Witnessing a performance like that on a stage as hallowed as the ‘Field of Legends’ would have had them dreaming of something similar down the road.

And the same goes for any young, and maybe not so young, footballer in Limerick. Something to look up to. To aspire to be. The spark.

Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Semple Stadium, Co. Tipperary 11/5/2019 Tipperary vs Limerick Limerick’s Iain Corbett scores a goal despite Brian Fanning of Limerick Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

From the throw in there was clear intent. I mentioned last week about the need to control the game, playing at their own pace and being precise with the ball. And apart from a brief period in the 1st quarter, this is exactly what played out.

Lads looked comfortable. The players looked assured and structured both with and without the ball, and dominated the kickouts throughout the game.

Billy and the entire coaching staff have to take huge credit for this. They looked in great shape and full of running throughout. The match-ups were spot on.

Even after the concession of the goal you could see that they had prepared for such a blow and reacted accordingly. Easy to say. Hard to put into practice. It showed the focus they had.

From Sean O’Dea’s limpet-like marking job on Tipp danger man Conor Sweeney, to Iain Corbett’s lung-busting runs through the heart of the Tipperary defence.

To Tommie Childs’ ruling of the skies time and again, to Adrian Enright’s physicality, to Cillian Fahy’s net buster, to Jamie Lee’s booming scores and many more stand out performances.

It really was every player bringing passion and precision to the game. Winning breaks. Using possession intelligently. Making sure the ball stuck. Running in support.

Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Semple Stadium, Co. Tipperary 11/5/2019 Tipperary vs Limerick Limerick’s Iain Corbett celebrates at the final whistle with Stephen Keeley Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

There was a calmness to everything the players did. Controlled aggression. Communication all over the pitch.

I was at their penultimate training session in Mungret last week and it was evident that the management expected and allowed the players to be leaders and problem solvers as the game evolves.

Not an easy thing to do for a team that is developing but it’s definitely the way to go in the heat of battle.

I have no doubt those players that are not currently involved in the panel will have taken notice of the result and the positive coverage on social media and The Sunday Game.

And that there will be a willingness to come back, if not this year, in 2020. I was even outside myself the day after kicking a ball up against the wall of the house wishing I was a couple of years younger! It was the first time since I finished up that I really had that feeling.

Of course I have missed not getting to pull on the jersey. But as I watched the final moments of the game Saturday and the scenes that followed, I was so envious. There is nothing like it. Embracing each other.

Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Semple Stadium, Co. Tipperary 11/5/2019 Tipperary vs Limerick Limerick’s Iain Corbett celebrates with Jamie Lee after the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Back stinging from well-meaning supporters. The vibes in the dressing room and the bus journey home. Opening your eyes the next morning realising you have achieved something special. Buzzing.

As overjoyed as us supporters were I’m sure it paled in comparison to the emotions felt by the players, the management and backroom.

They have endured some dark days over the last few years and would have questioned was there ever going to be a day in the sun.

Saturday they decided to a man, and woman (physio Kathryn Fahy), that it was going to be different this time.

I wrote last week that you are who you are until you change who you are. This group changed who they are last Saturday. And in the process may have helped change the immediate future of football in this county.

Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Semple Stadium, Co. Tipperary 11/5/2019 Tipperary vs Limerick Tempers flare between Tipperary’s Shane O’Connell and Limerick’s Jamie Lee Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

It might be wishful thinking but the buzz around football circles in recent times is something that hasn’t been there for a while.

As Billy Lee said himself after the game, this goes beyond getting a crack at Cork in a Munster Semi.

This can signal the start of something more significant, both for this group and the players that follow. Hopefully no longer will Limerick football be “dancing in the dark”. Glory Days?

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