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John Kiely looks on as one of many ferocious tussles on the day, this time between David Reidy of Clare and Tom Morrissey of Limerick, plays out by the sideline. Photograph by John Kelly

John Kiely: ‘The challenge we had to overcome was immense’

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John Kiely didn’t reference it, but you know that his Limerick team had history on their minds in Semple Stadium as they tried to go where only one Limerick team had gone before.

That’s the level they’ve reached in the last few years, how far they’ve raised their own bar.

Winning a four-in-a-row was that history, something the great Limerick team of the 1930s had managed between 1933 and ’36.

Mick Mackey was the star of that team — now the Mick Mackey Cup was up for grabs for the first time as the Munster Championship trophy and it was everything. 

Everything, even allowing for that fact that they’ve banked three Munsters, three All-Irelands and two National League titles since 2018.

Everything, because it’s always the game that’s ahead of them; the next mountain they chart, survey, and climb. And, as mountains go this was as big as they’ve ever had to climb.

“It meant a huge amount to us,” he said in that nod to history.

“I am so proud of them — we had a tough spring, a really tough spring and we worked really, really hard and have come through the round-robin and as you can see we really, really wanted to win this game.

“The way they just stuck at it was really important – we never deviated away from what we want to do,” he added.

It’s what Limerick do — and it’s relentless, but the onslaught from Clare was ferocious from the first whistle to the last in a game that mirrored the Shannonsiders’ epic 2018 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork that also went to extra-time.

“The challenge we had to overcome was immense,” continued Kiely.

“This Clare team, you’re going to earn every single crumb that you have with them. They work really, really hard and they’re full of energy. They’re good.

“There were times when things weren’t stringing together. We were struggling on restarts; we were struggling in general play. We just had to keep going. It was one of those days we had to keep grinding and grinding and grinding it out.

“There were phases where we got a bit of control — the last 15 of the first half, the start of extra-time as well.

“Even in the second half of normal time, we had a lot of the play, we just didn’t convert enough of our chances into scores. We had too many wides; we created enough scoring chances to win it in normal time.

“When you leave the door open with a one-point deficit and Tony Kelly has a sideline, 21 yards out and the left-hand side, you are opening the door. That’s the bottom line — there was a chink of light and he struck it through the chink of light and that’s a measure of the man he is himself,” he added.

But it was a measure of Limerick too, that they still wanted it so badly after all they have achieved — that the hunger to emulate Mick Mackey et al and cement their status as the best side to emerge from the county and up there with the best of all time keeps driving them.

“They have huge work put in the last couple of years,” said Kiely, “and whether there’s four weeks or 54 weeks between now and the semi-final, we’re damn glad to have won our match to be in a semi-final. Damn glad.”

Their seventh championship title in five years. But now it’s about getting a shot at an eighth, because it’s always the next game. The next mountain and they’ve just two more to climb. 

About Joe O'Muircheartaigh

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