Richie McCarthy remained a believer
By Cian O'Connell
Richie McCarthy has been part of the Limerick panel for nearly a decade so demanding days were endured. Recently, though, the emergence of a talented crop of youngsters injected the Treaty panel with belief and confidence.
Two All Ireland Under 21 titles in the last three years provided hope, but Limerick have now delivered at the highest level.
McCarthy has been restricted to a substitute role for much of the Championship, but it is one the tigerish full back is accepting considering the depth of talent available.
What is so different about the exciting Limerick youngsters? "They're just so used to winning," McCarthy says.
"Even winning on Sunday, we expected it. In years gone by, if we won a big game it was kind of like a relief. But these lads are just so used to it. If we won a big game in years gone by, we'd maybe celebrate for too long, but they're just so used to winning and we're living off them really, they're the heroes really."
The age profile of the Limerick panel is youthful, but McCarthy is impressed by how they have gelled with the more established figures.
"When Micheál Donoghue came into the dressing-room after, he said 'the one thing ye do, enjoy this'," McCarthy reflected.
"That's for the management to decide who to bring in for next year, but the boys are so grounded. You've Seanie Finn - the full-back line was only 22-23 and they're going to be there for years to come, they're absolutely unbelievable.
"I have a lot more experience than them, but I learned a lot from them, even chatting them at half-time about what they're doing well, what they're doing wrong. We learn off each other, we'd be hopping questions off each other. Even Jonathan Glynn during the week, I wasn't starting, but myself and Mikey (Casey) were asking each other 'what's the best way to mark him?' We thought 'just get the ball to ground'. Mikey and myself were trying to grapple him a small bit, but it worked. You have to live on the edge a small bit."
Visualation occupies an important part in McCarthy's pre match preparations. "In the build-up to the game, even when you're sleeping during the week, I always had the image in my head of running around Croke Park with that trophy in our hands and I wanted to go up to Hill 16 and go absolutely nuts with it which I did," McCarthy states.
"Shane Dowling spoke during the week and said 'why can't we win the game by six or seven points, why do we always have to be chasing the game? Go out and win it, play with a bit of abandonment, we're well capable of it.'
"That's the culture we should have in Limerick, why do we always have to be chasing teams? Why can't we take the forefront and win by six or seven points.
"We were kind of cruising to victory, that was our fault maybe with five or ten minutes to go we kind of had the image in our head 'is this real?' and they kind of started building the scores, but what can you say. It's unbelievable."
When Liam MacCarthy was hoisted by Declan Hannon was it any different to how McCarthy had visualised?
"It felt way better," McCarthy added. "Visualisation is not used enough in GAA. All week I had it in my head, I didn't want to be thinking too far ahead because if you're thinking of future things, you're lost, but all week I was just thinking it, whether I come on or not. "This panel is so tight with the 36 panel members that we have, it didn't really make a difference if I started or not, everyone is the same really on that panel."
That steely focus and spirit was one of the key reasons why McCarthy and Tom Condon contributed in the closing stages.
"Leading up to the game we had a lot of A versus B games and the B team were winning a good few of them which shows the strength of our panel," McCarthy remarked.
"I suppose myself and Tom would be considered the old guard with this team so I suppose when that last ball came in I was just thinking back to 2014 when Kilkenny got a flick to that goal in that unreal weather back in the day, I was thinking 'this isn't going to happen today'. But we got over the line."
In the dying embers as Galway suddenly started posing all sorts of questions Limerick just did enough with McCarthy acknowledging Caroline Currid's contribution off the field.
"Even the management and ourselves were a bit raw getting to an All-Ireland final, but she had the experience, she told us about it," McCarthy commented.
"Even the day before, she said if you don't pick up the hurley the day before a game, don't do it, don't change your routine which is a big thing for us." Limerick had acquired a winning habit in 2018.