THERE was something so symbolic last year when Declan Hannon climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand and shared the Liam McCarthy Cup with Cian Lynch.
This time round, with the roles reversed and the outcome repeated, it was freakish. Fittingly freakish, for a Limerick side that now are beyond the vocabulary of sporting excellence.
Eternity starts here. Officially one of the greatest teams of all time, and with it a chance to become the greatest.
This team’s mentality is inhumane. You’d wonder if they can even switch off and enjoy themselves such is the ravenous hunger they display from minute one to 70. Already the talk is of next year, and if the talk is there, then so too are the thoughts.
The more light hearted reviews of Sunday afternoon got a kick out of the “float like a buffalo, sting like a bee” comment from Dónal Óg Cusack, but that isn’t the Muhammed Ali quote that will be bouncing around even the most intoxicated Treaty heads in the close season.
“I am the greatest. I said that before I even knew I was”.
A seventh round knockout of Sonny Liston shook the boxing world to the core. An earthquake of apocalyptic proportions.
If the household of Cassius Clay was made of jelly, it wouldn’t even have wobbled. You want to be the greatest, well you talk like the greatest, you walk like the greatest, you eat like the greatest, you sleep like the greatest.
And by God you punch like the greatest. When you’ve nothing left to give, you give it everything. Someday, you might well be all the things you knew you already were.
Muhammed Ali didn’t want to be a champion, because that’s what all the others wanted. He wanted to be the best that ever lived, because no one else could aspire to want more than he did.
You run a mile, I’ll run a marathon. You scale Everest, I’ll do it backwards. You punch me, I’ll punch you hard enough that the thought of trying that ever again will inflict as much pain as the punch itself.
They don’t remember second place. They remember Muhammad Ali. They remember Limerick.
During a trip to La Rochelle last April, I attended a Top14 league match at the 16,000 capacity Stade Marcel Deflandre. Ronan O’Gara’s side defeated second bottom Perpignan in a result as crucial as it was routine. Nothing suggested that side would conquer Europe for the first time in their history just a matter of weeks later.
O’Gara has since become the hottest managerial prospect in world rugby. Among his various approaches to matches is theming, wherein matches are compared to various historical events, or notable references to popular culture.
That season, his Stade Rochelais team were ‘Les Premiers’ or ‘The Firsts’, the first La Rochelle team to win the European Cup. That was their motivation, channelling various things, among them Sir Edmund Hillary and his ascent of the world’s highest mountain in 1953.
But Hillary would never have got there without a 400-strong team, the most crucial of all being Tenzing Norgay, his Nepali Sherpa.
“Tenzing had substantially greater personal ambition than any Sherpa I had met.”
Norgay had unsuccessfully attempted to scale Everest five times before that famous day in 1953. Standing at 29,000 feet, or on top of the world in layman’s terms, he embraced his unlikely Kiwi companion. Mission complete, finally.
Where do you go from there? O’Gara, it seems, found the answer: European Cup 2023. His Munster compatriot John Kiely has found it four times since the Limerick Everest of 2018.
A Limerick comeback after half-time was never in any doubt. The sheer force of it however was like something we had never seen before. ‘We’ as in all spectators, Kiely among them. The difference is he knew it was in there somewhere.
Paddy Deegan literally ripped a hole in the Treaty net. A metaphoric message that Kilkenny were not here to respect the clinking pockets of their opposite men. Croke Park still feels like their turf.
If three-in-a-row saw Limerick become tenants, the weekend saw them become the landlords of Jones’ Road.
That second half was like a rallying call of “get off my property” to the new neighbour Derek Lyng, who hasn’t become accustomed to the ground rules. Take your stray cats with you and don’t come back.
One of WB Yeats’ most famous lines springs to mind:
“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone. It’s with O’Leary in the grave”.
In the marble city, they can make a few adjustments.
“Romantic Kilkenny’s dead and gone, it’s with Cody in the grave.”
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not Lyng’s fault. Brian Cody couldn’t stop this Limerick side either. No one can.
Sunday was the cementation of a dynasty. The shot of TJ Reid walking down the tunnel with the Liam McCarthy just above him was powerful. Perhaps that was the last shot for one of the greats.
It must have felt like they didn’t even fire a shot.
This Limerick group are something special in every sense. Skill, physicality, determination, they tick all the boxes. They continue to tick all the boxes. And the support from the people of Limerick has been nothing short of unwavering.
Maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe they want to be part of the journey that ends in five-in-a-row, or six, or more.
It’s hard to fathom the possibility of this being the end. The players are aware this is something special too.
Back after the defeat of Clare in the Munster final, the Limerick panel and management sat on the Gaelic Grounds turf long after the crowds disappeared.
Look to your left. Look to your right. These are the people who fight tooth and nail for every ball. These are the lads who were there in November, and will be there in November again.
These are the men who make your life what it is.
These are the men who have created history, and who aren’t finished yet.
Now say it again: “I am the greatest”.