Richie Bennis remains optimistic about Limerick's future
By Cian O’Connell
Richie Bennis occupies a central role in Limerick’s Championship history with Kilkenny.
The Patrickswell clubman starred in Limerick’s 1973 All Ireland Final triumph, played a year later at the same stage when the Cats gained revenge, and managed the Treatymen in the 2007 decider at Croke Park.
Those Limerick teams all generated momentum backed by a passionate support and Bennis feels that type of drive and desire is evident in the county once more.
“There is a confidence, the defeat to Clare maybe brought us back to ground a bit,” Bennis admits. “A lot of the public were getting carried away, so when we were beaten by Clare it might be a good thing for the future.
“You are correct, though, when Limerick have a winning formula they get a great following and there is a great buzz about them.
“That All Ireland in 2007 in Croke Park a person working in Croke Park said it was the biggest cheer he ever heard in all his time in Croke Park for a team running out on to the pitch before an All Ireland. It was unreal. They are crying out for success.”
During the past decade as Limerick’s Academy system manufactured hurlers positive results were seen in the underage, schools, and third level arenas.
Bennis monitored affairs with a keen interest. “You would notice it and the lads that were over it were very level headed,” Bennis says.
“They weren't doing it to get anything for themselves, they put it all in for the sake of Limerick hurling. It was very well done and well organised and you have to maintain it.”
Bennis felt that an exciting era was looming, but believes too much emphasis shouldn’t be placed on the fact that two All Ireland Under 21 crowns have been hoisted in the past three years. “When they were winning Under 21s they had no hype about themselves, they were very grounded,” Bennis adds.
“First and foremost to me Under 21 is no guarantee for success at senior level because by the time you are 21 you are on the senior panel anyway.
“The proof of that is in Munster Football where I think from 12 Munster Under 21s they won nine, Tipp two, and Kerry one, but they didn't transfer it into senior. For me I don't think Under 21 is any real guideline, minor is probably more important. At 21 you are nearly established as a senior player because that is the way hurling has gone.
“We are in a good place now, I hate to say to wait until next year or the year after you should take your chance when it comes. You never know what could happen next year or the year after.”
Taking the prized Kilkenny scalp would be a hugely important statement according to Bennis. “That is what I would call progress,” Bennis remarks.
“If we beat Kilkenny on Sunday we have arrived on the scene irrespective of what happens after that. We have to beat Kilkenny next Sunday to be able to say we are on the way.
“It should be very interesting, I would consider ourselves to be in a good place at this stage. Kilkenny are after having two very hard matches on consecutive Sundays, the third Sunday in a row seems to be a problem for all of the counties during the round robin.”
Limerick’s last All Ireland triumph back in 1973 is fondly recalled with Bennis acknowledging the gifted crop of players who graced the green and white jersey.
“We had a great team in the 70s, but Cork, Tipperary, and Kilkenny were at their best as well so we were slightly unlucky,” Bennis comments.
“In the mid 90s Cork, Tipperary, and Kilkenny were at a very low ebb - Offaly won an All Ireland, Clare won two, and Wexford won one and we never cashed in on the absence of those three great teams.
“We beat Kilkenny in ‘73, they beat us in ‘74. We had beaten them in two big League matches, it was important, winning is a habit and if you beat a team once you feel you can beat them. That is a good way to look going forward.
That Patrickswell are well represented on the current Limerick panel with Diarmuid Byrnes, Cian Lynch, and Aaron Gillane all prominent figures adds to Bennis’ satisfaction. “It is great, the last time we won the All Ireland we had four on the team in 1973,” Bennis beams.
“I was involved all the years in one capacity or another up until two or three years ago so these are good lads. They are very level headed and nice lads, you'd meet them in the street and you wouldn't think they had anything won or anything.”
Bennis paved the way for the next generation, who remain eager to deliver on the national stage.