on 3 November 2009
The first thing to say about this book is that everyone, and I mean everyone, who has any interest in Limerick hurling should read it. Henry Martin's interviews with players, managers, coaches and selectors from as far back as 1940 give us, as a county, much to ponder. They tell an engrossing tale of dedication, hard luck and back-room disharmony, and a legacy which seems to have left many of the interviewees with deep, lasting regrets.
We get a fascinating history of the game through the players' eyes, and how seemingly minor events had a major impact. For example, much has been written about the 1955 Munster Final against Clare, but very little about the introduction of the non-stop rule, and the impact it had on that match. The manipulations of Canon Punch in '49 are also intriguing, as is the rarely-discussed fact that Ahane's unbeatable teams of the 40s and 50s were backboned by several players from other clubs. There is also a harrowing re-telling of the near-tragic Mick Herbert incident of 1949.
But everywhere, there are regrets. In some cases, you feel compelled to ask whether some of these regrets are justified. Take the defeat to Clare in 1993. Phil Bennis is critical of the back-room shenanigans that led to us playing Clare in Ennis rather than at a neutral venue. Why would he have been afraid to go there, when we beat them easily in Ennis three years previously? And if the county board were at fault in '93, I never heard anyone congratulating them for the return fixture in Limerick in '96.
The defeat to Cork in 1987 also weighs heavily on the memories of those who played. Despite struggling for long periods in this match, we led by a point in injury time, and the ref would have played on until midnight if that's what it took to engineer a draw. Everyone remembers this, but no-one remembers that John Fitzgibbon scored a fantastic goal for Cork just before half time. However, the ball flew back out of the goal so fast that the umpire didn't see it. That would have put Cork four ahead and we could have been beaten heavily. This was our fate in the
replay anyway, despite being strengthened by the return of Danny Fitzgerald.
Even more bitterly regretted is the defeat to Cork in 1984. Though our luck was out that day, it is left to Jimmy Barry Murphy to remind us that Cork came into the game having lost the All-Ireland final for the previous two years. Cork are born winners, and they understand that being a winner does not mean that you win all the time. Given that Limerick faded from the scene for ten years after this match while Cork went on to win the All-Ireland, we clearly have a lot to learn from Cork in how to handle defeat. The 1980 final against Galway is discussed in a similar vein, despite the fact that we were well beaten that day by a far better team.
One of the central characters in the book is Tom Ryan. Unfortunately, he has few good words to say about anyone. I was struck by his recollection of the Mike Galligan saga in 1996. He pins the blame for this on the county board for refusing to allow Galligan onto the field because he was not one of the official subs. The clear insinuation is that Tom's hands were tied. But for a man who, according to himself, took so much pleasure on so many occasions in telling the county board where to stick it, why didn't he do it then?
Tom contributed hugely to Limerick hurling, possibly more than any one individual in the last 30 years. It would be terrible to think that all he has to show for his efforts are bitter memories. He managed Limerick to the Munster championship, and won an All-Ireland on the pitch with Limerick. Only Mick Mackey can say the same. Maybe it is time that Tom got some official recognition for what he has done for his county.
Chaotic team management is a recurring theme. It is comical to read that we had almost as many managers as players in 1955. Yet, forty seven years later, the team imploded because a cobbled-together five man management team could not work together. The subsequent tenures of Dave Keane, Pad Joe Whelehan and Joe McKenna all ended prematurely, leaving the overwhelming impression that we need to start learning from our mistakes.
But above all, the regrets keep pouring though. The years 1935, 1949, 1955, 1956, 1966, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1984, 1987, 1994 and 1996 are all offered as years in which, with any luck, we could have won the All-Ireland. While this may be true, you begin to think that a book like this about Clare, or Waterford, or Wexford, would be a
thousand pages long. In truth, whether it is lack of attitude or lack of players, we have consistently been unable to recover from setbacks, and as we see from 1973, we're not able to recover from success either.
All Limerick fans owe Henry Martin a huge debt of gratitude for this book, and for the wonderful accompanying booklet that he produced with James Lundon. Well done lads.
No excuses, Limerick fans. Get out and buy this book. Now.