Shane Stapleton was at Croke Park to watch the All-Ireland senior hurling final clash of Limerick v Kilkenny.
Limerick 0-30 Kilkenny 2-15 All-Ireland SHC final
While others foundered for spells, the great wizard of Patrickwell brought the magic for 70 minutes.
Cian Lynch has gone through a torrid couple of seasons with injury woes but was back to his best as Limerick claimed a brilliant four-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles.
The two-time Hurler of the Year popped over the first of the game, delivered another before the interval, but more crucially assisted for ten of the other 40 openings that Limerick created.
Peter Casey has now hit ten points in his last two halves playing into the Davin Stand — including the 2021 All-Ireland final win over Cork when he tore his cruciate — and to get half of those from the 44th minute was a series of daggers to Kilkenny.
This will be another bitter pill to swallow for The Cats. For a fourth time in a row, they have come to the big dance and gone home empty-handed.
Brian Cody’s swansong was an excellent display when losing by two points one year ago, but Derek Lyng’s side were comprehensively beaten by the end, losing by nine.
It was the same margin when they came up shy in 2016 against Tipp, with defeat to the tune of 14 three seasons later. The hunger will continue to grow this winter on Noreside, along with frustration at another heavy loss.
For a manager in his first season, Lyng has done excellently, and dropping his inside line back near the ’45 on the Limerick puckout reaped dividends early on. A year ago, they were pushed up to the ’21 and it left huge gaps for the Treaty half-forward line to exploit.
In that alone, this was a tactical step-up as the pressure they put on the reigning champions made an impact in the early stages.
Barry Nash was shunted over the sideline, then pressured into taking steps with the ball, while Mossy Keoghan picked Kyle Hayes’ pocket too.
Lynch converted Limerick’s only score from play inside the opening 19 minutes (Kilkenny had 1-3 by then) as John Kiely’s side were reduced to just one half-chance at the goal all game.
The Cats had eight chances or half-chances for majors, and might well have been closer if two more goals had bypassed Nickie Quaid. As it turned out, the Effin man had no save of note because his defenders usually got in the way.
From the 28th minute onwards, Limerick won this game by 0-25 to 1-7, in what was an eerily similar takeover to what Galway were faced with in the semi-final.
It was a 15-point swing that chinned both Leinster counties and, in truth, both will be thankful of good starts to those games.
The scoreline here was no disgrace but 30 scores to 17 tells the story. A burst of 1-8 to 0-3 during the first half gave Kilkenny a platform but ultimately it was made of sand.
The inevitability of the Limerick tide washed in and over the challengers, and there was little to be done only to admire their quality.
Kilkenny’s age profile will be a concern to Lyng. He didn’t use any of the Under-20s that he led to glory in 2022 — albeit three of them were among the 26 — while seven of the panel were 31 or older.
TJ Reid had some lovely moments, won a few frees, assisted important chances, but it is a lot to ask a man approaching 36 to drag his team over the line against such a physically merciless team.
Eoin Murphy (32), Reid (35), Richie Ried (30), Conor Fogarty (33), Cillian Buckley (32), Wally Walsh (32), Richie Hogan (34) and Padraig Walsh (31) have had exceptional days for the Black and Amber, but it is unlikely that all will return.
Top teams are always transitioning and looking to win into the bargain, and this will continue to be a challenge for Lyng. He will know better than anyone that his bench not only failed to spark, but in fact coincided with a drop in levels.
In terms of the attack, Reid, Keoghan, Billy Ryan and Walter Walsh all failed to score from open play, while Cody was held to just one brilliant goal.
The challenge for Kiely and Kinnerk here was huge. Sean Finn and Declan Hannon were out, Richie English and Jimmy Quilty were further losses to injury, and some of their key men had been off-colour this season.
Had they suffered an injury in the full-back line here, the only viable replacement in this area was substitute Aaron Costello, who plays at midfield for Kilmallock.
There was little doubt that Limerick were stretched but again they found a way. The working of balls in triangles when on the backfoot and under pressure remained, and ultimately it wore Kilkenny out.
Very few teams can keep with this machine for 70 minutes and Tipperary are the only side they have played that they have failed to beat during this year’s championship, though that was at a more forgiving time of the season. Tipp would not have lasted the pace here, you would imagine.
Limerick have given their most remorseless displays in front of packed houses at Croke Park, where they have now averaged over 31 points in their five winning finals stretching back to 2018.
Kiely has come out on top in 13 of 13 finals when including league, Munster and All-Ireland deciders — still 26 titles shy of Cody, we might add — and no team is cooler in the hottest moments.
This four-in-a-row most certainly surpasses what Kilkenny achieved from 2006 to 2009, and quite simply because Munster is much tougher, and the round-robin era is far more bruising.
The drive for five starts here.