Limerick captain Declan Hannon reflects on a whole new ball game of a build-up

‘We’re putting up a Christmas tree and trying to get ready for an All-Ireland final which is gas’

Limerick captain Declan Hannon lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after the victory over Galway in the 2018 All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Limerick captain Declan Hannon lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after the victory over Galway in the 2018 All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Two and a half years ago, tapping into a little lesson in sports psychology, Declan Hannon jotted down a few thoughts about the people he needed to thank should Limerick win the All-Ireland hurling title for the first time in 45 years.

He then gave the notes to Caroline Currid, the Limerick team performance coach, who kept them safe until two weeks later, when she handed them back to Hannon shortly before he walked up the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

A rousing seven-minute speech later, dutifully opened in Irish, each and everyone duly thanked, past and present, wordy and worthy of the occasion, Hannon was instantly hailed for giving a sort of captain-winning masterpiece, and the rest is Limerick hurling history.

This Sunday, Hannon has the chance to make further history, only the second ever Limerick player to captain his county to two All-Irelands (the first being Mick Mackey, from Ahane, in 1936 and 1940), only given the year that’s in it there’s also the prospect of a first and last.

As in the first and last captain to lift the cup in an empty stadium, and the first and last not to be allowed bring it home that evening – both consequences of the 2020 championship being played out in the pandemic winter.

There have been other differences in the immediate build-up: Hannon didn’t deliver any speech after Limerick won back-to-back Munster titles, in part because manager John Kiely wanted to wait until all 36-panel members were present (they will be allowed in on Sunday).

In advance of this one, Hannon insists he hasn’t yet given any thought to a winning speech, if indeed he’s even allowed to.

“Not yet, no,” he said. “Whatever the guidelines say. It’s strange. The league final and the Munster final you were putting up the cup and putting it back down and then it’s head off over to the dressingrooms again.

“That’s the way it is, we’d obviously like to acknowledge a lot of people but the way things are with Covid it was just about respecting all the boundaries that we were being told to follow.”

Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch and Pat Ryan celebrate the victory over Galway in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch and Pat Ryan celebrate the victory over Galway in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

At 28, having made his senior debut in 2010, Hannon is well used to the hype or otherwise surrounding Limerick hurling; a recruitment consultant living in the city, he’s been working from home for most of the year, the only hype he’s experiencing this year coming from close family.

“It’s the total opposite of the build-up to 2018. First and foremost we’re putting up a Christmas tree and trying to get ready for an All-Ireland final which is gas.

“The hype around Limerick in 2018 was massive, there was flags and bunting all over the county. Even around the city, everywhere I went people wanted to talk about it whereas this year you’re not going anywhere, you’re not meeting anybody, we’re working from home as much as we can like everyone else around the country.

“So yeah, totally different but from a player’s point of view it’s quite similar, you’re getting ready as best you can.

“My father is the biggest man trying to hype it up, ringing every second day telling me how great it is. I’m working at home and not really seeing anyone so if there is hype going on I haven’t seen it other than a few more flags around the place and a bit of bunting going up, mixed in with the Christmas lights, which is great to see. It’s different but we are absolutely delighted to be in this position.”

There’s perhaps less pressure on Limerick this time, at least compared to a Waterford team seeking a first title since 1959, but Hannon is conscious of the thought and opinion that Limerick haven’t yet been firing on all cylinders this year.

“You can feel it on the field that there’s not a real flow that we’d be used to in our game, at times. But again that’s down to the massive intensity and workrate that Waterford brought to the Munster final and that Galway brought the last day.

“It’s not always going to be as free-flowing as you’d like it to be. Years have gone by where Limerick have given good performances and after the game you’d say, ‘Jeez, that was a great performance’ but you still lost.

“It’s maybe good as well that we’ve probably played the last two games not firing on all cylinders but still getting the result. It’s nice to win those ugly games as well if you can. It’s a good experience to get into the group of players as well.

“Hopefully we’ll get over the line and we really then would want to acknowledge people. There’s a massive amount of work that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t get a lot of recognition for. In terms of acknowledging them, it would be great on Sunday but again, whatever the guidelines say that we can or cannot do we’ll just have to go with that.”

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