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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

Game recognises game as Henry Shefflin doffs cap to Limerick's four in a row contenders

This is the thing about playing Limerick. They will empty you. It is just a question of how long it takes.

It doesn't matter that they are already four All-Ireland titles into this remarkable cycle going back to 2018, that they are one win away from their fifth Liam MacCarthy in six years and that they can join Kilkenny (2006-'09) and Cork (1941-44) as the only teams to achieve the four in a row.

Nor does it matter that they lost one of their star defenders, Sean Finn, before the start of the year and then their inspirational captain and centre-half back Declan Hannon in the Munster final.

READ MORE: Declan Hannon has 'every chance' of making All-Ireland final as John Kiely plays down historic bid

Cut these Treaty men and you'll observe that hunger still pulses through their veins. It is a hunger that has kept them ahead of a by now ravenous pack that has lived off scraps in this green and white dominated era.

We wondered as the Munster championship played out if that hunger had finally been sated. Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final shut the door on that theory.

As Galway manager, Henry Shefflin has twice now been on the receiving end of Limerick's insatiable desire to keep winning All-Irelands.

Galway were right in it in the 2022 semi-final until David Reidy's late barrage of points. This time it was different. Galway's hugely encouraging start meant they were good value for their six-point lead.

Yes, Limerick were fortunate that Mike Casey's hurl happened to be in the right place at the right time to deny Brian Concannon a goal that would have made it an eight point game.

But then the champions just blew Galway away, out-scoring Shefflin's men by 1-17 to 0-6. There was nothing lucky about the 14 point turnaround from the 32nd minute that highlighted the gulf in desire between the sides.

As a player, Shefflin knew what it took to stay on top. The sacrifices that have to be made, the ruthlessness required. The 10-time All-Ireland winner was executor in chief in that four in a row winning Kilkenny team.

And so game recognises game. "So impressive," said Shefflin afterwards.

"It’s a testament to the management team and the players involved. They have the best players in the country and that hunger and desire is there, that’s the reason why they are still going.

"Consistency for any of us in any sport...when you look at it, that consistency and hunger to keep going to the well is very impressive.

"I was hoping we could keep it tight and bring it down the home straight like it was last year, I felt we would really have a chance then. But no, you just have to say they were brilliant and they got better and better as the game went on.

"It’s two weeks now until the final, which probably suits them again. They are just in prime position to attack that as well."

The emptying out process had taken longer this year - and last year, too, when compared to the previous successful campaigns.

Ultimately, however, the outcome is almost always the same.

Relentless, swarming, punishing green shirts suck the life out of opponents - for instance, Waterford and Tipp were hollowed out after going toe to toe with the champions. The intensity of the challenge left them burned out.

Galway came to Croke Park for a third semi-final tilt at Limerick since 2021, hoping to be on the right side of the result for the first time since last winning Liam MacCarthy six years ago.

For 25 minutes it all went right. Cathal Mannion answered Aaron Gillane's early goal and Shefflin's charges looked ready to take the scalp that everyone wanted.

The reality was that after a four week break courtesy of their annexing of Munster, Limerick were only warming up. Soon, they were scorching hot again.

It feels like they have timed their run to perfection.

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