Limerick’s John Kiely keeps calm with the big one still to come
Waterford manager Fanning also quick to look ahead, taking plenty of positives
Limerick’s Declan Hannon lifts the Division 1 trophy after beating Waterford in the final at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Even for a man of innate calm and understatement these are soaring times for John Kiely. In the space of just over seven months he’s delivered the two top prizes to Limerick hurling: an All-Ireland title 45 years after their last, and now a first Allianz Hurling League in 22 years.
Still Kiely talks like the last man on earth about to get carried away by any of it. He marked as “very significant” the fact Limerick have now won their last three big games in Croke Park – last year’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Cork, final win over Galway, and now this league win over Waterford – but this team is still all about the journey and not the destination.
“It’s satisfying to have had another solid league performance, without being spectacular,” said Kiely, after a game Limerick never once looked like losing. “I think we could have been a little more ruthless, got a few more scores, and at vital times we allowed the game to be hanging for too long, but we know these games will be a hell of a lot tighter in the championship, there’s a long year ahead.
“It’s like Rory McIlroy in golf: how long has he been waiting for that next major, that he can’t get? You have to hunt it down every chance you get, and for these guys the next Munster championship is the next one to hunt down, to seize the moment when it comes. There has to be a seed somewhere inside you, and you have an endpoint you want to get to, but you work on the smaller parts.”
Whatever about trying to build on 2018, Kiely is at least confident his team are improving. Those gaps that are talked about – 45 years, now 22 years – count for nothing at all.
“These guys don’t look at it like that. It’s another competition they don’t have a medal in. And how many of them have Munster medals? Very few, and that’s the top of the agenda now. I think we’re a stronger panel, and maybe stronger mentally, and can adapt to games maybe better.
“They’ll go back to their clubs for a few weeks, won’t see me, which I’m sure they’ll be thrilled with, and we’ll drive on from there. We have Cork coming to town on May 19th, and we’re not looking beyond that, I can tell you that much.
We’ve also used 32, 33 players, and some young players are still finding their feet. These players don’t just come off a conveyor belt. They have to be nurtured and developed, and that was what the league was about, really.”
Aaron Gillane’s form attracted particular attention (1-9 here, 2-45 throughout the league): “A good game, yes, but he missed a few as well,” said Kiely.
“But he’s had a great campaign, a very talented guy. Last year he was carrying a nasty ankle injury, this year he’s had no injuries but he knows himself he won’t be fully satisfied.”
That appetite for more comes from within, something Kiely believes is innate in the players. “They love their hurling, get on extremely well, and love being where they are, playing for Limerick hurling part of a special group. But you have to adapt, meet challenges as well, and sometimes that means grinding out games. But these players are lifers when it comes to hurling.”
Waterford manager Páraic Fanning was also quick to look ahead, taking plenty of positives even from a game they never looked like winning. “Not a great day, we’re a little disappointed, yeah, because we were looking forward to it,” he said, “but overall for us I would say it was a very decent league, most of our panel got game time”.
“We got to know each other a lot more, and beating Galway twice in three weeks, a very consistent team, so I think that shows us to be in pretty fine fettle overall.”
Part of Waterford’s problem appeared to come from Limerick’s more astute use of the ball: “They do use the ball very well, are very mobile, and are well down the road with that tactic. But I still think we’re quite powerful, maybe in a different way, and I don’t think you saw the best of us today. We see in training what they’re capable of, and trust me, we’ll be back again. We know the Munster championship is coming on fast, that’s another competition.
“Jack [Prendergast] came on at half-time as well the last day, made a big impact, and we were trying to open the game a little more ourselves, just to change the system a little bit. But we still have a bit of time before the Munster championship and we’ll have to gauge that in the six weeks or whatever it is. But there are places up for grabs, and players know that. We’ve a lot of lads fighting for places, and those lads coming back will increase or strength again.”