Angler's Walk in Rhebogue is an area tucked away on the outskirts of Limerick city. The University of Limerick looms to the west, and the St Patrick's pitches are alongside the banks of the river Shannon.

Dotted all around the dual club are various housing estates, but they still struggle for numbers. Rugby is increasing in popularity, while the successful junior soccer club Pike Rovers is the first love for many in these parts. They amalgamate with Claughaun at underage, but the feel-good factor in the club is at an all-time high.

Henry Shefflin said on the Sunday Game after the semi-final win over Cork that here was a football man playing hurling, but Gearóid Hegarty is playing hurling all his life. Hurling is his sport. His father was a hurler. His whole family are hurling mad

As Limerick head for Croke Park by train today to face Galway, looking for their first All-Ireland final win in six attempts and the end to a wait that stretches all the way back to 1973, their hopes rest partially on the shoulders of a St Patrick's clubman.

Last year they finally got their hands on the county junior championship, the fourth tier of Limerick hurling, backboned by Gearóid Hegarty. He came up along through the Limerick academies and caught the eyes of Limerick selectors in both codes at U21 and senior level.

The 24-year-old is the first player from the club to play senior hurling with Limerick and has been a revelation in the half-forward line all season.

Seán Maher has been coaching and managing St Patrick's underage teams, and indeed adult teams, for the past 15 years, and says the buzz around the club is at an all-time high.

"Last Monday night, we played an U16 championship match against Doon. I have never seen such a buzz in all my life," Maher says. "There were 200 people at the game. I have never seen it in my life as long as I have been going to underage matches.

"It's due to Limerick doing well, but Gearóid being involved. We are very proud of that."

Hegarty, whose father Ger was on the 1996 side that lost to Wexford, opted out of the Limerick footballers last year to concentrate on the small ball, but the truth is hurling was always the number one.

Maher says Shefflin, like many other people in Limerick, have underestimated the skillset of the physically imposing 6 foot 5 inch player. He is a hurler who plays football, rather than the other way around.

"Technically he is a superb player. His touch is brilliant. The point against Cork at the start of the second half where he took the ball, a delicate touch, stepped inside his man and shot over the bar from 60 or 70 yards, he made it look so easy. People don't give him enough credit."

Gary Kirby, involved in Limerick's last three All-Ireland finals as player in 1994 and 1996 and 11 years later as a selector, played Hegarty in the half-back line for UL's Fitzgibbon success this year.

"Everyone looks at his height and strength, but he has the skill as well," he says. "What I noticed about him is his work-rate.The amount of ground he covers is incredible."

Looking on from the stands in Croke Park, Maher and club supporters took extra pride in the win over the Rebels. With such an all-action game, Kiely had replaced the wing-forward in three of the previous five games, but he played every minute of the extra-time drama.

Ten minutes after referee Paud O'Dwyer had ended the enthralling semi-final, Hegarty was still down by the goals at the Davin End, unable to walk and battling cramp. There was nothing left in the tank, but the job was done.

He epitomises a lot of what that Limerick team is about. He's so grounded. The club has been great for him and he has been great for the club

Ahane GAA is no stranger to sibling success in Limerick colours. The great Mick Mackey, whose name lends itself to the GAA grounds, won three All-Ireland medals during a glittering period in Limerick hurling. 

His brothers Paddy and John also enjoyed Liam MacCarthy success, while the Treaty men's last appearance in the final 11 years ago saw Ollie and Niall Moran represent the 19-time county champions.

On Sunday, siblings Tom and Dan Morrissey will look to help end a 45-year drought and seal an incredible 2018.

"A savage loves its native shore," says Niall Moran, who retired from Limerick duty in 2013. "It's great for us to have a couple of our own involved. It does make it that bit special."

Both have Fitzgibbon medals - indeed 12 of the starting XV against Cork have third-level silverware and Kyle Hayes would make it 13 were he not injured for UL's success this year - but their paths have differed.

Wing-back Dan at 25 is three years older than Tom and represented his county through the age grades. Athletic and strong in the air, his improvement year-on-year is testament to the work behind the scenes.

"The strides Dan has made with his stick work in the past two to three years has been phenomenal," says Moran, "he's a guy you'd want to go into battle with."

Twins Paddy and Tom progressed through the age groups, but a growth spurt at minor meant Tom's days of flitting between goals and outfield were over. Munster medals were collected at minor level, while he captained the Limerick U21s to All-Ireland glory last year.

Paddy still plays senior hurling for Ahane, as does Niall's older brother Ollie at the age of 43.

The club secured just a fourth minor county title in 2014 when Tom was scorer-in-chief in the final. The inspirational point against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final was a key score in the game where Dan collected the man of the match award.

The wing-forward has sparked in attack this year and is the team's top scorer from play.

"They give so much to the club. It makes you very proud. It's very easy to say you are a county player and just play senior hurling with Ahane. They don't. They coach at every available opportunity. Dan is a member of the committee.

"They always stand out and carry us like you would expect for a county player."

Moran has more than played his part in the resurgence of Limerick hurling. The hurling academies have seen the majority of the 2018 crop pass through the system, but the schools have enjoyed a real revival, particularly at Ard Scoil Rís where Moran is a business studies teacher and is involved with the hurling teams.

The Limerick city school are the current Dr Harty Cup holders and after a first title in 2010, have won five of the last eight titles on offer. Past winning captains include Declan Hannon, Shane Dowling, Cian Lynch and Peter Casey. 

From his own experience of All-Ireland final day, Moran just hopes that each and every player grasps the opportunity as if it is their only one.

"We only got one in 2007, and never got near it again. It's gone, your time is done, and it rolls onto someone else very quickly. It's an awful regret to carry."

With thousands set to make the journey up the M7, green is expected to be the dominant colour around the capital and perhaps inside Croke Park on Sunday afternoon. Memories of the 2007 final defeat, and the semi-final loss to Clare five years ago come flooding back.

He is reluctant to pass on advice - "we didn't win - maybe the boys in 1973 would be more appropriate" - but has said the players need to be ready for the cacophony of sound.

"In 2013 when we went to Croke Park, there was 65,000 there and we had spoken about 2007 because it spooked us. Even our warm-up, the noise impacted us. Croke Park with 82,000 is different to Croke Park with even 72,000 people. Limerick will absolutely lift the roof off on Sunday. The players are only human."


These are special times for Adare GAA club. In 2001 they made the breakthrough with a first ever senior county championship, while eight years later, they sealed a third title on the trot.

That team featured a 16 year old who thrived in his first year at senior grade after making waves underage. In an absorbing Munster semi-final, Newtownshandrum ended Adare's season. Of their 1-14 tally, captain Donncha Sheehan claimed a point, the rest came from the stick of teenager Declan Hannon.

"It was extraordinary," says Conor Fitzgerald, a team-mate on the day and a Limerick dual player for the first decade of the millennium.

This was a player who spent five years with the Limerick U21s.

Only six Limerick captains have walked up the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect Liam MacCarthy as Hannon bids to follow in the footsteps of Denis Grimes, Willie Hough, Bob McConkey, Timmy Ryan, Mick Mackey and Eamonn Grimes.

Never mind a captain, Adare has never had a senior hurling All-Ireland winner within its ranks - Adare native Jim Hogan was sub goalkeeper in 1973 but was playing for Claughaun.

"It's huge for everyone," says club secretary Seán Scanlon. "We had 219 kids at the Cúl Camps this week, all wearing Limerick jerseys. It's the biggest Cúl Camp in Limerick at the moment, and we're not among the biggest clubs numbers wise."

1996 Young Hurler of the Year Mark Foley held the captain's armband for four years and lost two finals during a stellar career, and Adare's latest star is the glue of the team at centre-back. 

The 24-year-old's strong positional sense, presence under the high ball and pinpoint passing accuracy make him a leader more by action than words.

"He's an unassuming kind of guy. He's not a man for ranting or raving. He wouldn't say a whole pile, but what he would say, you'd listen to."

People here speak of his resilience. In the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Clare, Hannon had something of an off-day. Back then he was in the forward division, but his usual unerring accuracy from frees was a little off.

In truth the whole team was a little off, but Hannon's performance was the focus of attention."Declan got a lot of stick for that game. He took it really badly and shouldered too much of the burden. He was contemplating giving up hurling. It was awful, he was only a kid," says Fitzgerald.

Now firmly established as a ball-playing centre-back, his calmness is a huge plus in Limerick's gameplan.

"His delivery of the ball is second to none. He looks to have more time on the ball than other players, which is a sign of a class player."

The role of captain brings different pressures, with more to think about than simply performing on the pitch.

"Each individual is different," says 1994 captain Gary Kirby. "I never really thought about the speech. When we won Munster, I just said what came to mind. I hadn't prepared anything as you don't know what is going to happen on the day.

"If Limerick get over the line, hopefully the words will flow from Deccie."


The enthusiasm and optimism around the county is tempered by a realisation that the reigning All-Ireland champions, in fits and starts, have shown how devastating they can be when everything clicks.

"The one fear I'd have is that Galway could hit gold on the day, that they will bring the 70-minute performance they have been threatening all year," says Seán Maher. "I don't know if Limerick could live with that."

For Fitzgerald, Galway have at times been "awesome", but he takes comfort in the fact the Tribesmen have repeatedly let teams back into games.

His biggest fear is the hulking presence of one forward in particular.

"Johnny Glynn is a man mountain. I think [Galway manager Micheal] Donoghue will try and isolate Mike Casey. He has played very well all year, but the only time we saw him in trouble this year was against Clare's John Conlon.

"It only takes one or two balls into the square, and that's the worry I'd have."

One thing this particular Limerick team doesn't have is baggage. Indeed the side is littered with players used to winning big games at other levels, and Moran believes that their inexperience at senior level is no bad thing.

"Failure creates fear. Youth doesn't tend to experience failure in the way that age does. The people creating doubt in the mind are those who have failed."

The Ahane man says their ability to cope in adversity has been to the fore at various times this year. Now it will boil down to 70 plus minutes - perhaps even a replay given the season to date - of hurling and how they finish the game out.

"Limerick will be in this game going down the home stretch, I have absolutely no doubt about that. I just hope that they have prepared that if they find themselves with five minutes to go, that the game is there to be won. I hope no greater force burdens them and the weight of history doesn't suddenly appear.

"To this point, the weight of history has been brushed aside."

Follow the All-Ireland senior hurling final via our live blog on RTÉ.ie and the News Now App, watch television coverage on The Sunday Game Live, RTÉ 2, from 2.15pm or listen to exclusive national radio commentary on Sunday Sport, RTÉ Radio 1. Highlights on The Sunday Game at 9.30pm on RTÉ 2.