John Allen calms Limerick nerves while stoking desire for Munster hurling final success
Manager’s steadiness on sideline pivotal to victory over Tipperary
Limerick’s manager John Allen’s calmness on the sideline was important as Limerick went on to beat Tipperary in the Munster senior hurling championship semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
John Allen may have feared the psychiatric ward for his madly confident state of mind ahead of Limerick’s semi-final clash with Tipperary, and the subsequent victory that has thrown the Munster hurling championship into such a delirious state of uncertainty.
Some people might have feared for his nerve endings on Sunday too, as Limerick slowly, then very surely swept past Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds: now after the euphoria comes the classic reminder that nothing is actually won yet, as Limerick wait for either Cork or Clare in the Munster final on July 14th, and the prospect of a first provincial title since 1996.
What is certain is Allen will once again have his players in “the perfect state of mind”. Indeed they’re the very words of former Cork goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack, who won the 2005 All-Ireland when Allen was manager of his native county.
Speaking on The Sunday Game, Cusack described Allen as a “very special manager”, and added: “I’ve worked with a lot of psychologists and mind coaches down the years, and to be honest, I’ve never met a guy who was better able to mentally prepare a team than John Allen”.
A ringing endorsement if there ever was one – and yet Allen’s modesty and seeminglylaid-back approach to hurling is somewhat at odds with his steely inner drive and strength of mind.
A deep thinker on the game (as his hurling columns in this newspaper revealed), Allen also took over Limerick last season at a time when their confidence had taken some repeated hits over the last decade, this year also being the 40th anniversary of their last All-Ireland victory.
Yet Allen’s calm faith in the Limerick players – coupled with their renewed commitment – combined to full effect on Sunday, and that, says selector John Kiely, is what can drive them on to ever greater heights this summer.
Clear way of thnking
“What John brings more than anything is a very clear way of thinking,” says Kiely. “He’s very methodical, very precise, but also brings a great calmness to the whole thing. I think that definitely rubs off on the players and you saw that on Sunday. It’s very easy to get over-excited in a championship match, but John will always keep calm, and you saw that in the last 10 minutes.”
Indeed Kiely speaks with a similar calmness. A native of Galbally, Kiely teaches maths and computers just over the border in Abbey Secondary School, in Tipperary Town: unfortunately he’s based for the duration of the summer exams at Hospital Community School.
“So no, I didn’t have the pleasure of going into Tipperary this morning,” he says. “But it’s a nice feeling nonetheless compared to the last number of years going back in after losing to Tipp.
“But that confidence was there, in terms of the hard work that was done. They’d put in an enormous effort, in terms of training, strength and conditioning, diet, everything.
“We knew as well, from once the draw was made last October, this was going to be a very important game for us. We kept the focus all through the league, even when we missed out on promotion, and made sure this was the game we did perform in.”
Sunday also marked Limerick’s first win in the Munster championship since beating Tipperary in 2007.
So the task now for Allen and Kiely and the rest of the management is keeping the players calm in the run up to their first Munster final since 2007:
“Well, we’ve club championship next weekend, so players will go back to their clubs this week, and we probably won’t see them again until next week.
“It is a fantastic opportunity, to win a first Munster championship since 1996, which is a very, very long time. We’ll wait and see who we’re facing and it’s a huge task either way, but we won’t spare any effort in our preparations.
“I think it’s hugely important as well that this team got that win under their belt. I think it was a big psychological barrier to break through, and when you have that win, mentally it can make a big difference.
“But it’s important too that Limerick build on it. I certainly don’t think it will prove a flash in the pan. If you go back to last year we were up by seven points on Tipp, then just lost our composure a little. I think this team have the dedication now to keep improving.
“We have one or two players over 30 but the average age is 23, and they are getting more experienced all the time.”