‘He sees the full picture’: The serene leadership of Cian Lynch

If the midfielder is in his usual flow on Sunday, it can only mean good things for Limerick

Cian Lynch in action against Cork in the Munster semi-final at Semple Stadium, Thurles, on July 3rd. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

Cian Lynch in action against Cork in the Munster semi-final at Semple Stadium, Thurles, on July 3rd. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

 

When the world was in pandemic freefall last spring, millions of people entertained themselves by posting am-dram re-enactments of Angel Eyes, the Abba song revitalized by the terrible film musicals. Among the participants was a copper haired Irish fella in a white bathrobe, a floppy hat and outsized glasses. It took a few seconds to register that it was Limerick’s Cian Lynch. The clip was zany and high spirited and would bring a smile to a curmudgeon. Lynch was miming, hairbrush for microphone. Needless to say, his timing was perfect.

Contemporary hurlers can spend gilded All-Ireland careers in virtual anonymity. Shielded by helmets and from the media, brilliant hurlers can remain unseen and unheard. Lynch is an exception because of the mesmerizing smoothness of his on-field performances and also because his few public interviews mark him out as a natural communicator. His hurling talents are vivid and obvious but it’s the way in which he has apparently glided through the rush of Limerick’s All-Ireland success that makes him such an eye-catching talent.

“It is almost a reflection of the way he is in general,” says Jamie Wall, his coach on the Mary Immaculate team which won the college’s second Fitzgibbon Cup in 2017, a defence of its maiden title.

“If you sat down with him in a hectic mad coffee shop you’d feel like the world had slowed down around you. It’s kind of like that scene in Inception. The world could be falling around the two of ye and he is fully engaged in that moment. Maybe it’s not as simple as that but I do feel as if that mind state is at the least somewhat attributable to the way he makes decisions on the pitch. There is this serenity about him. And on the field there could be chaos going on around him and all he is engaged in whatever he is doing in that moment.”

Lynch was just six months old when his uncle, Ciaran Carey, galloped through the heart of Clare’s defence to strike one of the most celebrated of all hurling scores in 1996. He is 25 now and learned his craft even as Limerick began to seriously harness its underage potential. He won a Harty Cup medal at age 15 with Ardscoil Rís in 2011, captained the school to another title in 2014, won Munster minor medals with Limerick in 2013 and 2014 and an All-Ireland U-21 medal the following year. In 2018 he wore number 9 as Limerick won its first senior All-Ireland since 1973; Lynch finished as the first Treaty player to win hurler of the year since Eamonn Grimes, captain of that previous triumph. And he seemed to do it all with a smile on his face.

“He has this reputation as a maverick talent but he is one of the most system-oriented teams and he is a huge part of that system”. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne
“He has this reputation as a maverick talent but he is one of the most system-oriented teams and he is a huge part of that system”. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne

“There is no point in getting worried about sport,” Lynch told Ger Gilroy in an interview in 2019, shortly after Limerick had surrendered their All-Ireland.

“It is only natural for any player to be nervous and anxious playing a game. Life does go on outside it. It is great to have sport to forget about what is going on.”

Lynch had experienced a comparatively subdued championship that summer. But last winter, the team was imperious in reclaiming the McCarthy Cup. Their All-Ireland final was an exhibition of poise and economy: 0-30 scored, 0-24 of those from play with Lynch giving a master class in play-making and thrilling off-the-cuff plays that enhanced Limerick’s deliberate attacking play.

“He sees the picture,” Wall says.

“He is like a soccer player – like Xavi, he sees the full picture and where everyone is – or should be. That is a mark of him but also of the way he is coached and of how Limerick are coached. Is it instinct or is it robotic or is it both? It is almost robotic how good his instincts are, if that makes sense. He computes it so quickly and then he presses the button so quickly. He sees the picture, makes the decision and executes it almost in the same motion. He has this reputation as a maverick talent but he is one of the most system-oriented teams and he is a huge part of that system so there is obviously a really solid head for that side of the game as well.”

Lynch played last winter’s championship against the backdrop of a family tragedy: his uncle, Paul Carey, brother of Ciaran and an accomplished hurler, had been killed in a road accident in Dubai in November. Lynch played in the Munster final against Waterford the day after his funeral, gathering himself to score 0-3.

“Cian has been phenomenal in the way he has coped with the situation,” said John Kiely afterwards. Limerick momentum increased as they reclaimed the All-Ireland in a championship that had a sombre feel throughout. Their celebrations were under-stated and speaking afterwards, Lynch took time to remember his uncle and to frame the mood in the country.

“Across the country, with the coronavirus, people weren’t able to go to funerals, weren’t able to send their condolences, so it’s important just to remember those people, to remember those families. Other counties showed great support so yeah, it’s nice. I’m very into my faith so I believe Paul is with us today and everyone that was lost is guiding us and giving us strength.”

Lynch is open about his religious belief and his abstinence from alcohol. Both are staples of traditional Irish conservatism that have become almost radical in contemporary society. He wears his beliefs lightly but isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Cian Lynch: “It is great to have sport to forget about what is going on”. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie
Cian Lynch: “It is great to have sport to forget about what is going on”. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

“We would have differing views on religion, let’s say,” says Wall.

“But he doesn’t push those things on anyone else. And he is doing it for personal reasons. There is no judgment on people who may live completely differently. And we can all be guilty of that at times. I know I am. But Cian is not on any crusade. It’s just: this is me. It’s one of the things I most like about him.”

When Wall first encountered Lynch, he wasn’t sure what to make of the expressive hair-cuts – now copper colour with a rat’s tail, now peroxide blonde: he wasn’t a straightforward study. He was soon disarmed. On the field, he was a driving force. Wall remembers one game against NUIG, where Lynch is now completing a Masters. Mary I needed a win to get out of the group, two points down and anxiously checking the watch. Lynch faced the opposition puck-out, won the ball and earned a free which Aaron Gillane converted. It was nothing extravagant or breathtaking but it was a huge demonstration of providing what was needed.

Sometimes when they’d chat over coffees, Wall says he would find himself begging Lynch not to go down the corporate or business route after graduation.

“He has this quality that is needed in an education or some kind of social capacity. He is made for that. In Mary I he was just a brilliant presence because he has time for everyone and people gravitate towards him. He is a natural quiet leader. He is not fist pumping marauding kind of guy: it is a quiet, almost serene kind of leadership.”

It will be the same on Sunday afternoon, in the rush in Páirc Uí Chaoimh as Limerick chase their third Munster title in a row. If Cian Lynch is his usual flow, it can only mean good things for the champions.

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