By Cian O’Connell
John Kiely remains firmly focused on the present. Two years ago Kiely left Nowlan Park bruised following a disappointing summer exit against Kilkenny. Valuable lessons were learned, though, and Limerick’s response has been loaded with intent.
The despair of 2017 was replaced by joy a year later with the ultimate honour in the game secured.
Declan Hannon hoisted the Liam MacCarthy Cup, Limerick’s green and white flag was planted on the hurling summit.
This spring the Allianz Hurling League was added to the collection so Limerick’s track record is impressive entering the Munster Championship.
Limerick must simply deal with the heavy weight of expectation swirling around the south west. “That’s just the way it is,” Kiely says. “We have to cope with that, but that was the whole point.
“We always wanted to be successful, and now we are successful, or we’ve had a taste of it, we know it’s a hell of a lot better than 2017.
“I didn’t go home with a very sweet taste in my mouth after that experience and it’s not one I want to go back to.
“The Championship is very evenly balanced in Munster, any team can beat any other on a given day – we saw the difference the width of a goalpost made in two matches – so we have to make sure our preparation and focus are right for May 19th.
“Cork beat us in the League and that’s a reflection of what can happen when the standard of your performance dips. You’ll be punished by these teams, that’s the way it is.”
The fact that silverware has been accumulated won’t count for too much in 2019. “No, it doesn’t change anything at all,” Kiely remarks. “That was then, this is now, the 2018 Championship has no bearing on the 2019 Championship, it seems like an eternity ago.
“It has no bearing on what’ll happen – we have four games, there are two points available for each and we need to fight for those, but it’s all eyes on the first game.”
Since winning the All Ireland Limerick’s players have been impressive ambassadors for sport. Several came through decorated underage and third level teams, but Kiely takes satisfaction from how they are faring on and off the field.
“The players are maturing, every year they get a little more experienced – on and off the pitch – and those experiences help in building their self-confidence, self-awareness, self-belief,” Kiely admits.
“They know as they progress through their careers different experiences will come their way and their reaction to those will determine their growth as individuals.
“Dan Morrissey is here at the launch, a solid guy and it’s a reflection of his development. He’s representing the squad, Declan has had a lot of demands on him.
“Dan stepped in and we’ve spread the load in that regard across the group without stifling the lads’ opportunities to meet people, make connections, network, as people do in business all the time.
“I’m not one to shut things down for players, it’s a case of allowing them explore different experiences at different times and not overburdening a couple of players in that way.”
The Championship format is exacting, but Kiely believes that the relevance of every panel member shouldn’t be underestimated.
“Definitely keeping things simple during the course of it, and allowing the players as much time to rest in between the matches,” Kiely states.
“You can’t get any work done really the week of the games, you are just ticking over. You still need to keep an eye on the players who maybe aren’t starting.
“They are the most important group of players if you like, because they are the guys that you are going to rely on to finish matches or start the next one.
“That’s the tricky part – watching players who didn’t start the first game and getting them ready for the second game, because you are going to need to use more of the players.
“If I had any learning last year I think I could’ve used a few more players during the Championship in that series of games.”
Having enjoyed the glory of 2018 how difficult will it be for Limerick to replicate that form once more?
“It all remains to be seen,” Kiely responds. “There’s a chance there every day you go out to perform well, to be successful. I’ve seen nothing to think that these guys are anything, but ambitious, hardworking.
“When you have those two ingredients you’ll give yourself a chance. They’re very, very young.
“It’s not like they’ve lost any appetite or hunger for it. if anything, it has increased their appetite and hunger for it.
“Because they’ve seen what it’s like to be part of a group that’s performing well. They’ve had a couple of tough years, they know what it’s like to be on the other side as well.
“When you’ve had the tough years you value the good times as well. They’ll be working hard to remain as competitive as they can for as long as they can.”
With Kiely directing operations that is most certainly the case.