THE sun is out. The grass is cut. The Sunday Game is back. It can only mean one thing – championship hurling!
This Sunday at 4pm in the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick will go head-to-head in the Munster Championship against the old enemy, Tipperary.
For some, the rivalry is more intense. Step forward John Kiely. The Limerick senior hurling selector is in the thick of it – he hails from near the border in Galbally and teaches in Tipp.
“In recent years, the Limerick supporters have been muted a little bit because of our lack of success but we would be hoping that by the time we get back to school in September we will have plenty to give the Tipperary boys to worry about,” says John who teaches Leaving Certificate maths and computers in the Abbey Secondary School in Tipperary Town.
While the main focus this week is on the State exams, there is still time, John says, for the odd bit of banter.
“About 10 per cent of our school population would be from the Limerick area – Doon, Pallasgreen, Nicker, Kilteely, up into Galbally,” he explained.
“The two Fannings from Pallasgreen [Darragh and Brian] who are both on the minor hurling panel are here as well as David Cussen from Galbally who was on the Limerick minor football team.”
Tipperary senior hurler, Conor O’Brien, who is now a garda based in Limerick city also learned his maths from John.
While John admits that beating Tipp “is a big ask” considering that they are the overwhelming favourites, Limerick, he feels, have to turn the corner eventually “and hopefully Sunday will be the day”.
“They have worked extremely hard over the last six months,” he says, “over the last three years I suppose really. These guys have put everything on hold in their lives for next Sunday. We are just hoping everything will go right for us on the day.”
Back home in Galbally, he says, there is fierce interest in the game, not alone because of his own involvement but also because of James Ryan.
James from Knocklong plays football with Galbally. His mother Bernie is a Tipperary woman, from Nicky English territory, Lattin.
According to James’ father, Shamie, the sense of anticipation and excitement is starting to build, albeit nervous excitement.
“It’s always tense up to the throw-in but once the ball is thrown in, they are off and they are rattling,” he says.
For Shamie, the cauldron of a championship encounter requires huge physicality and if Limerick can make their presence know from the outset, they will, he feels be in with a fighting chance. “I firmly believe if we can get in with that little bit of physicality and let them know we are there, get at them early, we can win.”
James, he says, is playing long enough now to be able to handle the pressures that come with a big summer encounter. “He is really gee’d up for this. He is a mad for a bit of revenge. There are a couple of games that he wants to get back at them for,” he jokes.
James who is employed as a GAA coach only lives a mile from the homestead in Knocklong The odd time he brings home the washing. “We got him out of that habit but the machine broke down a while back. It is the bit of food he comes for really, he raids the fridge now and again!”