Cian Lynch is Limerick’s marquee player and he was in Ennis on Monday ahead of Thursday’s Munster final when he spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh about the challenge of a playing a provincial final before a packed house in Cusack Park.

A MEETING of neighbours and the keenest of rivals, with the Munster final rivalry in the various grades of hurling competition going back nearly a century.

And, this latest joust comes on the anniversary of two of the most famous jousts of all — 60 years since the Mick Mackey’s team of greyhounds ran the legs off roaring hot favourites from Clare in the Gaelic Grounds; 20 years since Clare came of age in a Munster final for the first time since 1932.

Neighbours and keenest of rivals alright, but that doesn’t really tell the Clare/Limerick story where this Munster Under 21 final is concerned.

All because, as Limerick’s hottest young hurling talent Cian Lynch quickly points out, it’s also a meeting of genuine friends, hurling soulmates who have journey together in the formative years of their education in the game and shared that winning feeling in the same Munster Championship dressing room.

“The likes of Ian Galvin, Colin Crehan and Michéal O’Lohghlin and more,” says Lynch. “We grew up with them. Inside in Ardscoil it’s half and half, half Clare and half Limerick. We’re friends off the field and we’re friends on the field,” he adds.

It’s the special comradeship between some of the main protagonists in Thursday’s Munster final through their shared experience of being on the ‘rolla’ of Ardscoil Rís on Limerick’s North Circular Road.

Comradeship that hardened along the school’s rapid rise through the ranks of schools hurling — from being also rans to being the dominant forces in second level hurling, market leaders and a hurling nursery in the midwest when once all those tags applied to St Flannan’s College in Ennis.

“The school has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years,” continues Lynch. “When I came in first year, it was Ardscoil Rís starting off, looking for hurlers to come into the school and thankfully when I came  a great group of young fellas came in after us and were there before us and it really started the hurling in Limerick really — in the city it brought people together playing hurling, winning Harty Cups, Rice Cups, White Cups, Dean Ryans and it has developed hurlers that might never have got a chance to be developed. It’s been great.

“We have a bond on the field playing on the same team — it will be kind of weird playing against a good friend, a lad I grew up with, but that’s the joys of it. It’s happened down the years. Ardscoil is a school that has had Clare and Limerick hurlers in the past that have come through (to play county) so we’re kind of used to that,” he adds.

And so it means that when Lynch crosses paths with some of his fellow old Ardscoil ambassadors who are in saffron and blue, they’ll all park the old pals act for an hour or so, join battle in what could be a shoot-out for the coveted Corn na Cásca trophy.

Lynch is Limerick’s marquee player — the Bord Gáis Hurling Ambassador who did so much to derail Clare’s Munster Championship hopes at senior level with his man of the match performance in the provincial quarter-final, but has been a marked man ever since.

“That’s a thing of the past,” he says of his exploits against Clare in Thurles. “As a forward you want an open game — you want space to run into and as a back you want to crowd out the space. It works both ways. The sweeper system is in now, that’s the way the game is going so you have to play it.

“It’s patience and trying to get the lucky breaks at the end of the day. Going out to the ball if there’s two men in front of you from the opposite team you don’t know whether you’re going to win it or not. It’s to try and be patient.

“There is less pressure coming back to your own peers that you grew up with — with the seniors you’re playing with lads that you look up to and lads that you see as an older generation. But there is big pressure obviously for Thursday night, it’s a Munster final. It’s what you aim to play in and there are nerves leading up to it,” he adds.

“We have a bond on the field playing on the same team — it will be kind of weird playing against a good friend, a lad I grew up with, but that’s the joys of it. It’s happened down the years. Ardscoil is a school that has had Clare and Limerick hurlers in the past that have come through (to play county) so we’re kind of used to that,” he adds.

Ahead of the game Lynch discounts the recent history between the sides — a challenge game a few weeks ago that Limerick won pulling up and the Munster championship minor semi-final three years ago that saw Clare come out on top.

“Challenge matches are totally different to championship hurling, especially a Munster final,” he says.  “A lot of the senior lads from Clare weren’t playing, our (senior) lads weren’t playing, Leaving Certs weren’t playing. Championship is totally different.

“The minor (three years ago) went to extra-time and we were well beaten in extra-time. Players improve and players dis-improve over the years — on Thursday it’s nearly the same panel of players again so we’ll see. We’ll look forward to it.

“Clare have great experience and players that have been on those three-in-a-row teams, going for four-in-a-row now, but at the end of the day it’s the team that’s going to work the hardest. Clare at home — it’s a massive thing for them as every team would love to play a Munster final at home in their own ground.

“In Ennis, the crowd in the stadium is close enough to the pitch and they’re nearly in on top of you, so they hit every ball with you. We expect a big crowd. We’ll try our best, go to Clare and see what happens.”

Limerick expects. Clare expects.

Between them it is settle this latest hurling argument between neighbours and the keenest of rivals….and of course great friends.

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