TWO years ago this week John Allen stepped down as Limerick senior hurling manager after two years.
Selector John Kiely was the preferred candidate of many to step into the role.
However, the time wasn’t right for the Galbally man.
“I’ve a new job as principal and I’ve 450 students and 50 teachers to look after. It would be my ambition to manage Limerick at some stage but now isn’t the right time for it. The job deserves 120% commitment and a lot of respect. You can’t be half-hearted about it,” said the Abbey CBS principal at the time.
One year later and after three seasons, with three different managers, without a win in the Munster U-21 hurling championship, Limerick again turned to Kiely to reverse the losing streak.
The former Limerick and Garryspillane hurler returned to a grade, where he had won Munster honours as a selector/coach with the Leo O’Connor managed Limerick in 2011. Bit by bit, Kiely and backroom team have assembled their 40-man panel and the minor talent of 2013-14 looks in good hands. Planning started last November and after a series of trails and 14 challenge games later, Limerick were ready for championship.
“We had never worked with these players, any of us and are not involved with any of their clubs so we had to start from scratch - getting to know the lads, what colour helmet they wear, how they hurl,” outlined Kiely at the Limerick press event in the Greenhills Hotel.
“I never thought we would see where we are today but maybe the reason we are here is because we didn’t look beyond any game. It has been a hard route but a really enjoyable route. We are still standing and it has been really enjoyable getting to know the players as a group - it’s only when you get into the championship campaign that you get to know each other properly because its intensive stuff three times a week. We have had a great year and it has been very enjoyable and I got to know a lot of people I didn’t know 12-months ago and hopefully we can push on from there,” he outlined.
But finals are for winning, as Limerick know too well.
“We have been involved in some great games already this year so it’s a great privilege to be in the final but I have been involved in some finals and didn’t come out the right side of them and that’s not an enjoyable place to be.”
He added: “We are good enough but we have got to get ourselves right to do it again. It’s all about the performance on the day - we want to be as good as we can possibly be, be the best we can possibly be and put ourselves out there to see if that is good enough and that’s what finals are about - getting across the line at the end of the day”.
“If we are there-or-there abouts with 10-minutes to go I think we will have the hunger to push on - it will be a titanic battle and I have no doubt it will be a super game of hurling.”
“We don’t get to too many All Ireland finals in the county and we haven’t won too many. We have an opportunity to go and stake our claim and to be the best we can and that’s all we want to do on September 12 - if we are as good as we can be, lets see if its good enough to win it.”
While the bookies have Limerick as favourites, it means little within the camp.
“This is an All Ireland final and a two horse race - it’s a 50-50 match. They are three time Leinster champions and defeated in the All Ireland final last year and they beat Galway in the All Ireland semi final last year so they have to be given due respect for that. A lot of these guys played senior for Wexford last year and this year - they are a good side. It’s going to be a huge battle and we got to get ourselves right and be focused,” said Kiely.
“I have no doubt that there will be moments in the game where both teams will go toe-to-toe with key battles to be won and we have got to be ready for that and I am sure they won’t be found wanting in that department either.”
A former Limerick senior hurler and footballer. Back in 1998 Kiely won an All Ireland IHC at wing back with Limerick and then in 1996 he was a sub when Tom Ryan’s Limerick lost to the All Ireland SHC final to Wexford. He continued playing with Galbally and Garryspillane long after his Limerick days and was rewarded when Garryspillane won the 2005 Limerick SHC title.