John Horgan: Stars align as Limerick look set for era of hurling dominance

Nine All-Star awards show how far All-Ireland champions are ahead of the rest
John Horgan: Stars align as Limerick look set for era of hurling dominance

Limerick’s Gearoid Hegarty had a great year in 2020. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

WHEN two-thirds of a team’s starting 15 get selected for All-Star recognition, you are dealing with an exceptional unit.

The Dublin footballers received nine All-Stars last week and were quickly followed by the Limerick hurlers, with a similar amount.

Only the Kilkenny hurlers, in the aftermath of the 2008 season, matched that amount, thus replicating the 1983 and 2000 teams from the same county.

So, in the 50 years of the All-Stars scheme, only four hurling teams, the Cats on three occasions and now Limerick, have managed that much recognition.

It is quite an extraordinary achievement and it illustrates how far ahead those teams were of their rivals in those years.

Down through the years. All-Star teams have merited plenty of debate and plenty of adverse comments, and there have been times that one could not comprehend how one or two players were chosen ahead of others.

On this occasion, however, it’s difficult to come up with reasons why any of these nine Limerick hurlers should not have been chosen.

In fact, many of them were automatic and I am sure those who selected the 15 did not deliberate too long.

TIGHT CALLS

A couple of players might have been a bit unfortunate to lose out — the Waterford pair, Stephen O’Keeffe and Austin Gleeson, for example — but who would you have omitted to facilitate them?

In the aftermath of the 2019 season, Tipperary dominated the selection, with seven players.

This time, they were nowhere near getting even one and that shows how things can change from year to year.

Over the past number of years, Cork have had a paltry return from the All-Star scheme, but that’s the way it is: If you are not challenging at the business end of the season, you won’t get too many.

Limerick set the bar very high on this occasion, winning all 12 games that they played and taking possession of the Munster SHL, the Munster SHC, the NHL, and the McCarthy Cup.

To go through a season unbeaten is maybe unprecedented and that feat has to be recognised in any awards scheme.

The season that Limerick competed in was like no other; the pandemic that we are all still living through made life extremely difficult for all the participants, in both the hurling and football championships.

Collective training was severely restricted for a while and you had to play the games without your supporters. It was the same story for all the teams, but playing in front of empty stands and terraces in the big stadiums cannot have been easy.

But in every instance, Limerick coped magnificently, and, from day one, against Clare in the Munster championship they were the most formidable force by a good distance.

And on any occasions when their credentials were put to the test, they came up with the right answers every time.

When a team wins the All-Ireland one year, the tendency is to speculate that they will dominate for a while.

When Tipp won in 2019, we thought they might become the first team from the county to retain the McCarthy Cup since 1964 and 1965.

That didn’t happen, of course, and now the spotlight falls on Limerick again to see if they can dominate for a bit longer.

The general consensus is that they will because they possess greater depth in resources than any of the other counties.

DOWNSIDE

In an after-the-awards interview last Saturday night, the hurler of the year, Gearoid Hegarty, suggested that the lack of time that they had with the MacCarthy Cup itself will be a motivating factor this year.

“It will; we didn’t even have an hour with the cup,” Hegarty said.

“They didn’t even allow us to bring it off the field, so we just, literally, had it for a few minutes on the field.

“We didn’t see it again, which was disappointing. The important thing is that we won it, but it would have been nice to have had the trophy for a bit longer,” Hegarty said.

He’s quite right, of course: It might only have been a small thing, but small things can mean an awful lot.

At the end of the day, however, it’s all about being recognised for your achievements and Limerick were deservedly the big winners on this All-Stars night.

The players who didn’t receive recognition might be disappointed, but they shouldn’t be, because the part that they played was every bit as much as those who were selected.

The entire Limerick half-forward line of Hegarty, Cian Lynch, and Tom Morrissey was selected and that’s some going.

A unique year ended with a unique achievement.

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