Hayes and Limerick enjoying life back in the fast lane
All-Ireland champions very much at home back in the top flight of the league
Kyle Hayes of Limerick in action against Kilkenny at Nowlan Park on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
At some point in his fast fledgling hurling career Kyle Hayes might become more conscious of time.
A first All-Ireland for Limerick in 45 years? No concept whatsoever. A first league victory over Kilkenny at Nowlan Park in 22 years? Still a bit before his generation.
Hayes does at least present some measure of Limerick’s continually rising graph, Sunday’s nine-point victory over Kilkenny some measure too of who exactly is going well in the Allianz Hurling League.
Still this latest feat is mostly lost on Hayes, who at 21 wasn’t born the last time Limerick won at Nowlan Park, in 1997; equally lost is the fact no reigning All-Ireland champions had won at the venue in the following season’s league since Galway 32 years ago.
“No, we didn’t at the start of the league say, ‘Jeez, we have to come up here to Nowlan Park and play Kilkenny and win at that ground’, we never really look at any game like that,” says Hayes, named man-of-the-match in the 2018 final win over Galway, and later 2018 Young Hurler of the Year.
“We’re already looking forward to Cork this weekend. We knew it was going to be a big test coming up here to play Kilkenny in their home back garden. Even anywhere, to play them in Limerick would be a big test. We’re just trying to take it game by game and the target was to win this game and to hopefully put in a good performance.”
Sunday marked his first full game of 2019, having come on as a replacement for the last 14 minutes of the previous win over Tipperary; Limerick manager John Kiely has been deliberating giving some fringe players the chance, but the prompt return to form of Hayes also suggests the young established players are equally hungry for league action. With three wins from three, sitting atop Division 1A, there is clearly no All-Ireland hangover.
“Getting a break is obviously a massive part of rejuvenating for the next season,” Hayes says. “We did that and once we got back training, we’re always very hard trainers, so we weren’t long getting back into our fitness and getting our ball and touch-work back.
“The first few weeks (of pre-season) are obviously very hard, any player will tell you that but as soon as you get used to it...it’s probably just getting back into the routine, that’s the hardest bit of it. But we definitely won’t be getting carried away. We’ll take it game by game. Cork next week, they’ll be really gunning for it, especially after beating Clare. They’ll be looking forward to coming down to Limerick, especially because we’ll be playing them there in the championship as well.”
Kilkenny pressed Limerick every inch of the way last summer; on Sunday, Limerick killed them softly off, settling the match in a little over five minutes before half-time when the home side were s outscored 2-3 to nil. Even with the wind in the backs to come, Kilkenny were in big trouble.
“We knew they were going to come out at us with all guns blazing, they always do. All we tried to do was weather the storm and kick on ourselves and put the pressure on them for the first 10 minutes of the second half. We seemed to do that and it worked out well for us.
“Winning is a habit and that’s what you want to keep doing. Just keep on this path and on an upward trajectory performance wise. We’re moving around the squad, like, thankfully we have a massive squad there and any person that comes in is putting everyone’s place under pressure.”
“With these games now it’s nearly like a championship game every week. It’s obviously very good but it gets you sharper much quicker. And we’re not happy with just one [All-Ireland], like, we wanted to get back into hurling as soon as we could and just drive on with it.
“Any team playing with confidence is going to play well. Everyone is just training hard and what you do in training is going to happen out there on that field. We’re really training hard at the moment and we’ll try to keep it going.”