Gearoid Hegarty sets the tone for legendary Limerick performance with a moment of utter defiance 3 weeks ago

Gearoid Hegarty sets the tone for legendary Limerick performance with a moment of utter defiance

Limerick 1-31 Kilkenny 2-26

Paddy Deegan gets a hospital pass.

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Gearoid Hegarty's eyes light up. Richie Reid looks on sheepishly because he knows, deep down, the way things are going, that Deego won't be thanking him for this one.

Deegan stretches every last sinew of his body to get there, to get a hand on it, to get something on it, but in the end, as he might have predicted, as everyone in the stadium might have known, he doesn't even get the chance to smell it.

That's because it has dawned on Gearoid Hegarty - a man who's been alive to everything so far - that Paddy Deegan is wide as a gate open. That he's there for the taking, that he's in no-man's land and while that's never the place to be, it's especially hopeless when you're playing against Limerick. Because these boys just eat you up.

So in comes Gearoid Hegarty, timing pared back to mere milliseconds, and then fairly, squarely, like a billhook cutting through a thistle, he sends the Limerick supporters wild as he cleans Paddy Deegan out of it.

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The Kilkenny defender never really stood a chance, not the way that ball hung up for him and then, as it had done for much of the day, it just broke into the path of a Limerick man. And as it was all day, that Limerick man was Declan Hannon.

Some might say, in this scenario, that fortune favoured the brave but that just wouldn't be right. Because it wouldn't be fair on Kilkenny. It was a stunning sight in Croke Park, a few minutes after the trophy presentation, and having swallowed the toughest pill of all, when the Limerick fans rose to applaud their opponents off the field.

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It was a magical moment, full of respect and sportsmanship and after what we'd just witnessed, it was no less than what the Cats deserved. Brian Cody's boys lost this game but, in the past, their general has looked more downbeat after losing games. He stood alongside his management team during the presentation and you could sense an air of contentment there, in the legendary manager, and you could sense an air of pride, that his boys had done what he'd asked them to do and died with their boots on.

The reality for them is that Limerick are just that little bit better. That little bit sharper and that little bit more rounded.

And in the early stages, as Kilkenny struggled to find their bearings, it looked for a while as if John Kiely's team were going to run away with it. Gillane was kicking balls over the bar and then, as he took his first step towards one of the great All-Ireland final displays, Gearoid Hegarty stunned the stadium with a missile into the top corner.

Kilkenny were jittery at this stage but Mikey Carey settled them into it with a tremendous catch that set up a fine Eoin Cody score. Carey showed all his athleticise there and he kept it up as one of Kilkenny's best performers on the day.

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Elsewhere, to combat Byrne's brilliance and Kyle Hayes' marauding madness, TJ Reid stood up and time and time again for the Cats. The Ballyhale maestro never missed a free but his all-round mastery of the game, his catches and his passes kept Kilkenny alive.

They went into the break happy enough to be trailling by four - they had TJ to thank for that - and they kicked in true Kilkenny style in the second half. Billy Ryan's first goal gave them a lifeline but then Martin Keoghan nearly brought the place to its knees when his goal dragged them to within a point. Everyone was on their knees when John Donnelly dragged them level seconds later.

Walter Walsh made an ever bigger impact off the bench while, as he got stuck into every Limerick man that came near him, Adrian Mullen left everything he had out on that pitch. The young Ballyhale man hurls with such fury and such anger that must make him an absolute nightmare to hurl against.

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But crucially, Tom Morrissey struck back almost immediately and Kilkenny never got the chance to go in front. They huffed and they puffed but they never got in front all day, and Limerick held on for a finish. It wasn't long before the Cranberries were playing around Croke Park, and the whole county was in dream-land...

Kilkenny

Eoin Murphy; Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh (0-01); Michael Carey (0-01), Richie Reid (0-01), Paddy Deegan (0-02); Cian Kenny, Conor Browne; TJ Reid (0-09f), Padraig Walsh (0-02), Billy Ryan (1-00); Adrian Mullen (0-03), Martin Keoghan (1-01), Eoin Cody (0-01.

Subs: Conor Fogarty (blood sub for Browne 17-25 mins), Walter Walsh (0-01) for Kenny (ht), John Donnelly (0-01) for P Walsh (48), David Blanchfield (0-01) for Browne (53), Richie Hogan for Cody (59), Alan Murphy (0-01) for Deegan (61)

Limerick

Nickie Quaid; Sean Finn, Mike Casey, Barry Nash; Diarmaid Byrnes (0-05, 3f, 65), Declan Hannon (0-01), Dan Morrissey (0-01); William O'Donoghue, Darragh O'Donovan; Gearoid Hegarty (1-05), Kyle Hayes (0-04), Tom Morrissey (0-04); Aaron Gillane (0-07, 4f), Seamus Flanagan (0-02), Graeme Mulcahy.

Subs: Peter Casey for Mulcahy (46); David Reidy for O'Donovan (52); Conor Boylan (0-01) for Flanagan (60); Cathal O’Neill (0-01) for T Morrissey (64).