Limerick craving Wexford scalp
LOSING a Munster hurling final is never easy.
Losing a Munster final when you have a chance to put down a back-to-back marker, to dispel the pejorative notion that last summer was a flash in the pan, is harder still.
The one 'good' thing about losing a Munster final, though, is that you aren't left for months on end, kicking your heels and kicking yourself in the process.
That fate befell Limerick last August. The county went crackers when their hurlers won a first senior provincial title in 17 years. Then those same hurlers cracked in Croke Park. Just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final and, for whatever reason, they froze - they lost by seven points to Clare but even that margin doesn't tell the full story of Limerick's collective no-show.
"We didn't turn up at all," recalls wing-back Paudie O'Brien. "When I think about last year, I would always think back to the Clare match rather than the Munster final. It was that disappointing.
"I'm not saying it's an opportunity lost or that we had a God-given right to win because we didn't.
"It's just that we didn't turn up at all and that's really disappointing. It's hard to leave Croke Park with regrets like that. We have one match to get back there and try to justify ourselves."
That one match comes against Wexford - the story of this year's hurling summer, thus far - in Sunday's opening All-Ireland SHC quarter-final at Semple Stadium.
While Wexford have been on a back door roller-coaster these past three weekends, Limerick have spent the past ten days mulling over their failure to retain their Munster crown. Last year they hurled up a second half storm against 14 Corkmen; this time it was a case of cold-blooded Rebel revenge, two second half goals making all the difference.
"Looking back at it, we scored 24 points and 24 points probably wins a lot of Munster finals," O'Brien muses.
"But is that a consolation? Probably not, no. You go into finals to win them and you don't care how you play, really.
"You're not going to get there every year so, when you do, you need to produce it - but we didn't. We're just going to have to pick ourselves up, put it behind us and drive on for the next day."
But there's the rub: there is a next day.
"We got back together on the Monday night and put it behind us," says the Kilmallock man, who became a dad for the first time just days before the Páirc Uí Chaoimh showdown.
"We have a great opportunity and a second chance. A lot of teams don't have a second chance but we do.
"If you look back to the start of the year and someone told us we'd be in an All-Ireland quarter-final, then you'd take that," he continues.
"You're there at the latter end of the season and one match away from where we want to be. We're going to just prepare as well as we can for what will be a massive challenge."
A big part of that challenge will be coping with the momentum that Wexford have built up during their epic two-game saga with Clare, followed by last weekend's nail-shredding thriller with Waterford.
On the flip side, perhaps Limerick can derive confidence from last year's example of how a losing Munster finalist (Cork) can still recover and have a huge say in the race for Liam MacCarthy.
"The group that's there now is there or thereabouts. Everyone knows there's only a puck of the ball between the teams that are left, and no one would care to call it," says O'Brien.
"We're going a different route this year and it might suit us a little bit better having the extra match.
"You have to look at it as if there is no other match after the next day. We can't underestimate how big this game is for us," the Limerick defender signs off.