Limerick’s Once-Happless Hurlers Get Used to Something New: Winning

CORK, Ireland — For many years, the story of Limerick hurling was a story of failure so crammed with off-field drama and on-field defeat that it verged on farce.

And it was a farce performed out on the nation’s grandest, most public stage. An Irish sport born some 2,000 years in the past, hurling seems like a hybrid of lacrosse and baseball, with gamers whacking the ball, and one another, on a discipline large enough to land an airplane. For thousands and thousands of avid followers, successful and shedding information are measured in time spans that may appear geological, and after Limerick’s golden age, manner again within the Nineteen Thirties, it acquired a historical past of futility neatly captured within the title of a 2009 e book, “Unlimited Heartbreak: The Inside Story of Limerick Hurling.”

Most notoriously, the staff was up by 5 factors with minutes left within the 1994 All-Ireland Championship last in opposition to Offaly County. The conclusion seemed so foregone that Limerick followers left their seats and headed in the direction of the sector, anticipating pandemonium. Offaly scored 7 factors in a frenzy. Game over.

Limerick received a single All-Ireland title in 1973, after a decades-long drought, after which didn’t win once more for greater than 40 years.

“Even when the staff was good, it contrived to lose in ways in which have been spectacular, virtually ludicrous,” mentioned Arthur James O’Dea, the creator of “Limerick: A Biography in Nine Lives.” “They went to the finals 5 instances after that win in ’73 and misplaced each time.”

Then, in 2018, Limerick started its unbelievable transition from also-ran to dynasty. The staff received its first All-Ireland in 45 years, a squeaker in opposition to Galway. After shedding the next yr within the semis, Limerick went on a roll, successful the championship in 2020, 2021 and 2022. If Limerick prevails once more this yr, it is going to turn out to be solely the third staff in historical past, together with Cork and Kilkenny, to win 4 titles in a row.

“That’s manner, manner down the road,” Limerick goalie Nickie Quaid mentioned this month concerning the prospect of a four-peat. “We’re solely wanting on the first spherical in two weeks’ time.”

The turnaround has been particularly candy for Quaid and his household. A Quaid has performed on the county staff in each decade for the reason that ’50s, beginning with twin brothers, Jack and Jim. Jack had a son, Tommy, who performed goalie within the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Jim’s son, Joe, took over the place and performed within the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s.

And in 2011, Tommy’s son, Nickie, turned the third Quaid to function the staff’s goalkeeper — and the primary to win the cup.

On a latest Sunday, Quaid stood at midfield at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork’s hurling stadium, leaning in opposition to his bat, generally known as a hurley, and cooling off after simply over 70 minutes of play. Limerick had simply defeated Kilkenny within the last of the National Hurling League — a type of warm-up to the All-Ireland event — and the Cranberries’ “Zombie” blared from loudspeakers as followers, dressed within the staff’s inexperienced and white, cheered and beckoned for selfies and autographs.

The scene had all of the acquainted trappings of any postgame celebration, however one thing about hurling appears ready-made for mythology, as if followers aren’t watching a contest a lot as a parable. Maybe it is the age of the game or the size of the sector, which is about 3 times the dimensions of a soccer pitch. Maybe it is the spectacle of males batting the sliotar, because the ball known as, at over 90 miles an hour and scoring factors from as far-off as 100 yards.

They do all this with a wood stick that appears stolen from discipline hockey, then tricked out with a flat, rounded finish that gamers use to bounce the sliotar as they run. The ball may be handed by a swing of the hurley, a slap of the hand or a kick, though no matter you need to do on this sport, it is best to do it shortly. There are 15 gamers on all sides and whereas they cannot use their hurleys as weapons, they will come fairly shut.

Beyond its proportions and physicality, hurling is ready aside by what it pays: nothing, even on the highest ranges. And you want to hail from the county to play for it, making hurling — together with Gaelic soccer — one of many final bastions of pure beginner sport. Like everybody else on the sector, Quaid has a full-time job, in his case as a main faculty instructor.

“It’s an enormous hurling parish,” mentioned Quaid. “Nice in case you win one thing, as a result of you’ll be able to convey the cup to faculty and see the enjoyment of their face.”

Quaid has performed a singular position in Limerick’s exit from its tragicomic period and one second specifically stands out. It’s a play extensively considered a turning level within the staff’s fortunes and absolutely the best save of Quaid’s profession.

It occurred throughout that 2018 semifinal. The staff was trailing in opposition to Cork, then mounted a comeback within the waning minutes, scoring 6 unanswered factors. (Quick primer: You get one level for sending the sliotar over the uprights above the purpose and three factors for placing the sliotar within the internet.)

The sport was tied as the ultimate seconds ticked away. Then a Cork attacker named Robbie O’Flynn took a go close to the purpose and it out of the blue seemed as if Limerick was about to add one other calamitous stumble to its wealthy library of pratfalls. O’Flynn was firing at virtually point-blank vary, which might have buried Limerick’s desires for one more yr.

“This may seal it,” the tv announcer shouted, “this ought to seal it!”

Instead, Quaid appeared to have learn the play prematurely and he lunged at O’Flynn along with his bat, knocking the sliotar to the bottom. It quickly turned generally known as “The Flick” and it turned Quaid right into a people hero, the play marveled over in pubs and dissected on YouTube.

“It was only one little incident in an entire sport,” Quaid mentioned when requested about The Flick. “It wasn’t something that I dwelt on actually or such like.”

Judged on the transactional foundation of American skilled sports activities, hurling takes excess of it offers. And the Quaids, with their affinity for the goalkeeper’s job, have accepted the phrases of this association and greater than their share of the hazard that comes with it. Prizing mobility over bodily hurt, hurling goalies don’t put on pads. (A 2011 Slate essay concerning the place was titled “The Craziest Men in Sports.”) Helmets have been mandated by the Gaelic Athletic Association solely in 2010, and it took some cajoling to persuade many goalies to go together with the rule.

The dangers of the job have been amply demonstrated by Joe Quaid, who throughout a sport in opposition to Laois County in 1997, took a penalty shot to the groin that destroyed a testicle. To the reduction of household and followers, Quaid went on to father 4 kids.

“The joke is that my purpose improved,” he mentioned in a telephone interview.

Joe Quaid coached Nickie when he performed within the under-16 league, although arguably the best affect on the most recent Quaid in inexperienced and white is his mom, Breda Quaid. Her husband and Nickie’s father, Tommy, died on the age of 41 in 1998 after he fell from a constructing the place he was working building. Breda was decided to hold hurling within the lives of her three sons — Nickie is the center youngster — and she or he enrolled in a course in teaching at a time when girls have been a rarity within the sport.

“She’s one of the distinctive, most selfless girls I’ve ever met,” mentioned O’Dea, the creator. “She’s one of many 9 individuals I profiled in my e book, and she or he agreed to converse to me on one situation: that I do not put her face on the duvet. She needed Tommy’s face there.”

O’Dea was struck by her items as a coach — “She’ll kill me for saying that,” he mentioned — and her devotion to each her kids and the game. Breda prefers speaking about her son’s success. Reached at house in Limerick, she was expansive on the subject of the 2018 win.

“I’m a type of individuals who lived via the period of Limerick being starved of success,” she mentioned. “So after we received, it is onerous to describe. We have been all crying. His two brothers, on the finish of that match, when the whistle blew, they have been really crying with pleasure.”

Limerick has excelled by pioneering a model of hurling that prioritizes long-range scoring via the uprights as opposed to scoring objectives within the internet at shut vary. A purpose is value 3 times the factors, however practically each Limerick participant is a risk from so far as 50 yards, permitting the staff to pepper opponents from everywhere in the discipline.

Back within the ’90s, most video games ended with every staff scoring 10 to 15 factors via the uprights. Limerick will often rating double that quantity. Consequently, the job of goalkeeper has modified dramatically.

“When I used to be taking part in, your job was to hold the ball out of the online, then hit it as far-off as attainable,” mentioned Joe Quaid. “Now the goalkeeper is extra like a quarterback. When he will get the ball, he begins the assault.”

To be efficient, a goalie should have pinpoint accuracy with that initiating go, generally known as a puck out. The Flick however, puck outs are the talent for which Nickie Quaid is most famed. During warm-ups on Sunday, he stood on the purpose and batted balls to gamers standing 60 yards away. In most circumstances, his teammates barely wanted to shift their weight to make a catch.

He was virtually pretty much as good throughout the sport. Just two of his 24 puck outs wound up within the opponent’s possession, an distinctive tally. When the primary half ended, Limerick had a snug 6-point lead, which it padded within the second. By the time the ultimate whistle blew, followers have been musing aloud concerning the bulldozing energy of this squad because the championship season started.

For a much less exuberant take, it appeared apt to verify in with Henry Martin, the creator of “Unlimited Heartbreak.” In a telephone interview, he echoed Nickie Quaid’s one-game-at-a-time philosophy, tamping down any untimely optimism. After years of anguish, he’s nonetheless getting accustomed to Limerick as a feared and dominant pressure in hurling, a change he is aware of is worthy of one other e book.

“There needs to be a sequel, but it surely will not be written by me,” he mentioned. “It needs to be written by somebody much less haunted by previous defeats. Someone who’s grown up and witnessed this astonishing success.”

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