John Allen: We’ll know on Sunday if departure of coach and board is Limerick’s watershed

My former team are an honourable, hardworking, keen, decent group of talented hurlers

Shane Dowling celebrates a late point against Tipperary in last year’s Munster semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds.

Shane Dowling celebrates a late point against Tipperary in last year’s Munster semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds.

Fri, May 30, 2014, 11:00

It was December 4th, 2012. The time was approaching 6.30pm and I was just arriving at Mick Neville Park in Rathkeale in West Limerick having left Ballincollig, Cork an hour and a half earlier. The new Cork-Mallow road is an improvement on the old version but it still isn’t great. The road from there to Charleville isn’t that wonderful either. It’s a trying enough journey at that time of the year.

At 7pm the Limerick senior hurlers would begin the first collective training session of the fast-approaching season. The lights of the all-weather pitch and of the hurling wall signalled life on this dark end-of-year night.

As Christmas approached, the town itself would be full of new life as the Travellers diaspora arrived home to spend the festive time in their spiritual home. The main street would welcome back the top of the line Mercedes, Range Rovers and Lexus people carriers.

The players would soon arrive in their functional transport, glad to be part of this late year/early season new beginning.

There would be many trials and tribulations and not too many highs before that beautiful June day when we headed to the Greenhills Hotel for the meal before the first championship game of the season. For the previous six months this group of players (and all other county players who harbour visions of greatness) had devoted their young lives to ‘being right’ for this day.

It’s a day I will never forget. Limerick, they told me, don’t fear Tipperary. But beating Tipperary is another story. Limerick’s victory was unexpected to most followers of hurling. The manner in which they achieved it was the reverse of the previous year’s finish and result. Last year Limerick made better use of their substitutions and also finished better (and scored more).

In late April, after a Thursday night training session on the all-weather pitch in UL the panel adjourned to the one of the complex’s meeting rooms. It was the first time in my two years with Limerick that winning Munster, or dare to say it, an All-Ireland, was spoken about with conviction. It was great to hear the players actually verbalise that a championship trophy could be won that year.

Blind faith

This was blind faith but I think we were working on the principal that believing is seeing. Getting the players to that state of belief, for me, was key.

The on-field proof began to manifest itself with a very encouraging performance against Kilkenny on a balmy Sunday evening in mid-May in Martinstown. JP McManus and the Staker Wallace club pulled out all the stops to get the best opposition for the fixture and they don’t come any better than Kilkenny. On that evening in front of most of the All-Ireland-winning 1973 team, the present boys in green gave a first sign that there were better days ahead.

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