Ger at Croke Park before the big match PIC: Harry Murphy Sportfile
Only the privileged few get to be in the company of the Limerick hurlers as they prepare for big matches.
Ger O'Connell is one of them. Here the team's kit man, at the Leader’s request, gives a fascinating insight into life behind the scenes on the weekend of an All-Ireland.
Friday, July 15, 2022
I left work at 4pm and went to the Woodlands House Hotel for two big bags of ice for the baths. I arrived at the Gaelic Grounds at 4.50pm for training and dropped the bags of ice near the bath.
I made my way down to set up the players’ stations. As the weather was intensely hot I left a tub of iced water and Energise drinks in the middle of each of their pods. John Kiely came in and there was a bounce in him - you could tell he was looking forward to the weekend.
Cones and bibs are put out and I take sliothars out to the 50m line. Just as I was finished with them, Hego (Gearoid Hegarty) and Seamus Flanagan were right behind me. Hego said, “G Dog – crossbar”.
The first ball just missed it, the second one pinged the crossbar. I’m in awe, what skill and confidence, a good omen for Sunday.
All players are out now and pucking about. Eibhear O’Dea (logistics) and Conor McCarthy (liaison officer) and myself go through the details for Sunday.
We’re happy with everything. County secretary Mike O’Riordan arrives with two cooler boxes which are badly needed. John blows the whistle and the group circles around for the instructions. The session starts. Forty minutes later the session ends and a large huddle gather around him in the middle of the field. John says a few words and the team and panel is announced.
Saturday, July 16, 2022
Prepa ration day. Suddenly I realised I left the big water drum on wheels in the dressing room from the training session. I drive back to the Gaelic Grounds and notice the shop being set up for the big screen.
I made my way down the steps to the dressing room, trying not to look at the construction of the big screen but I couldn’t. I left the Gaelic Grounds and decided to go for breakfast in Morrison’s.
While I waited I had a quick read of the Irish Examiner, and it brings home with the many articles, photographs and expert opinions that the game is tomorrow. I read the Leader on Wednesday!
When I arrived home I got down to work. It was hot but Sunday was going to be even hotter so what am I complaining about. Drinks are put into the cooler boxes and towels are bagged but I keep worrying if I have enough.
My wife Mary drives to Dunnes Stores for an extra 10 towels. Some towels are put away to be iced for half time. Sliothars, cones, poles, water, Energise drinks, gels are all bagged and put into the van. I give it a wash for the journey.
Young Jack Fraher arrives with his mother Dara and gives me his customary good luck card. Jack has given me a card since 2018. I put it into my gear bag and it comes with me to Croke Park. I have noticed that Jack gets more creative every year.
I finish my preparation and most things are stored in the van except the jerseys. I always keep them in the house before every game. They are too valuable to put into the van overnight. They are what we represent and who we are.
I go to Mass and Fr Tomás O’Connell (a Tipperary man) wishes us all the very best and the supporters a safe and enjoyable trip. I get home to relax and watch Up For The Match.
There’s something nostalgic about that programme and pre-2018 I was envious of other counties appearing on it. I often said ‘when is it going to be our turn…’
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Up at 6.45am, kind of nervous and excited. The morning is warm, letting us know that a hot day is on the horizon. I look in the van just to double and triple check everything is there and make room for the iced towels, buckets and the two sets of jerseys.
I put my own gear bag in and I’m ready to go. I’ll get my breakfast in the Portlaoise Plaza, the same as the semi-final.
Usually I travel on my own but this time I collect our nutritionist Eoin Murray at Lidl in Roxboro at 7.30am. We travel to the Portlaoise Plaza. On the way we can't believe the number of Limerick cars already making the journey.
We have the breakfast in the plaza, surrounded by Limerick supporters all fuelling up. The break is welcome and I meet a few locals. They are apprehensive but waiting for a big team performance.
We leave the plaza and head towards Dublin among the cavalcade of cars with green and white flags flying. Some blow their horns and others salute. I don’t know who they are but I get a sense of pride and privilege to be in the position I am.
We hit the M50 Northbound, turn off at the R108 towards Ballymun and arrive at St Aidan’s Community School for the pre-match.
I take out whatever is needed and Eoin also gets out to set up. I leave the school and hit for Croker, a lot of fans in green jerseys can be seen walking towards Jones’ Road.
Approaching my turn-off at Clonliffe Road I notice two gardai leaning on the barriers. My indicator is on to turn left but they are hesitant to move.
Suddenly one of them spots the Limerick crest on the van and the barrier is now open. I make my way to the back of the Cusack Stand. It’s strange how familiar you become with the place - the nerves and unfamiliarity is completely gone. I head for Gate 8, the steward lets me in and I drive under the Hogan Stand to Dressing Room 2.
On the way I had to steer carefully around about 200 stewards in black waiting for their instructions and lunch bag. I arrive at the dressing room and begin to offload the gear.
The Kilkenny kit van drives past to Dressing Room 1. The great Denis (Rackard) Cody gets out and I go up to meet him. He has been kit man to the Kilkenny hurlers since 1977 and still fresh as a daisy (I thought 16 years was long!).
We have a little chat and wish each other the best of luck. I come back to the van to bring in the last few bits. Ray McManus, of Sportsfile, wants a picture along with Den O’Brien of the Weekly Observer.
After setting up the dressing room, Ollie (our dressing room steward) comes in. I’ve gotten to know Ollie since 2018. He’s a Laois man and a gentleman who is looking after teams in Croke Park for the past 22 years.
We chat as I set up the last few bits and pieces. The stats team arrive and take some water plus a few programmes. Finally, I now get a chance to have a look at the pitch. It is like a carpet. The crowd are filing into their seats, the heat is intense.
I look around this vast and iconic stadium and go back to the dressing room. Everything is set up, I think, but I get a small bit nervous. I go out to the van for three bags of sliothars just in case.
As I make my way out, I pass the Artane Band in the tunnel, fine tuning and cleaning their instruments. I say to myself ‘how do they stick the heat in those uniforms?’.
Time goes fast. Suddenly it’s 2.20pm. The garda motorcycles escort the team bus to the dressing room. The team are met by a frenzy of photographers and in they come.
The next three hours go by in minutes.
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