No loyalty issues as Allen plots against his native Cork

Jerome O’Connell

Reporter:

Jerome O’Connell

Limerick manager John Allen during a press event ahead of their Munster Hurling Final
Limerick senior hurling manager John Allen insists that he has no issues as he prepares to battle against his native county and club colleague Jimmy Barry Murphy.

Limerick senior hurling manager John Allen insists that he has no issues as he prepares to battle against his native county and club colleague Jimmy Barry Murphy.

It was the autumn of 2011 and John Allen arrived in Mick Neville Park in Rathkeale.

It was the first time that the Cork native had taken his new-look extended Limerick senior hurling panel for a field session.

The former Cork All-Ireland winning manager had to pause before pulling on the green and white of his new team.

“Being brutally honest the first day that I put on a Limerick shirt, I found it extremely strange,” said Allen this week.

“Now it’s not an issue and second nature.

That was 20 months ago.

Replacing the management team of Donal O’Grady and trainer Jerry Wallace was never going to be easy. But Allen was undeterred and was quick to put his own stamp on his back room team and his player of panels.

Bit by bit he won the confidence of the players, albeit after some speed bumps along the way.

All were none too happy with the league final defeat of 2012, while some confidence was restored with ‘moral victories’ in last season’s championship against Tipperary and Kilkenny and with local derby success over Clare in the Qualifiers.

2013 brought renewed confidence but another blow came with the defeat to Dublin in the league final. But somehow Allen managed to lift his camp to new heights in the nine weeks between league and championship.

The scenes at the final whistle after the Tipperary victory said everything about the heartache of previous campaigns.

The manager shared in the outpouring of emotion out on the Gaelic Grounds field: “When you are working somewhere and with people you develop a bond and loyalty - I am a Corkman but I want Limerick to win.”

Even the thought of his club colleague Jimmy Barry Murphy along the sideline won’t faze Allen. JBM is one of many, he said: “I have a lot of friends in that management team and those players.”

Still, Allen and his Cork counterpart soldiered together in their club colours. “JBM has won everything as a player and manager with Cork. He is an extremely hard working coach and we know what to expect from his teams. That team will play with a fast ball – they moved ball quickly and Clare found it hard to cope.”

The Cork win over Clare was in Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds. But Allen is still hoping that home advantage will be key for Limerick.

He can still remember how the Limerick support increased the decibels in the closing quarter of the semi-final win over Tipperary.

“If I was to be brutally honest before the last game I would have questioned what advantage it was because my own experience in this management was that we were hockeyed in our first league game against Clare and then came back in league final and again beaten by Clare,”outlined Allen.

“We hadn’t a great experience of playing in the Gaelic Grounds but we had our two qualifier games there last year and played really well.”

“The last day when we won a real serious game there and I would certainly have seen how vocal the Limerick supporters were in the last 15 minutes. You can’t underestimate that. You are training there and players know the goals they are shooting into.”

Limerick broke their Munster SHC hoodoo with the win over Tipperary but the manager believes that there is room for improvement in his team.

“There is no day that you go out and the performance is perfect,” said Allen. “If you lose maybe the analasys is more forensic. Obviously we struggled for a period at half forward, particularly after half time and because we struggled there our backs were under pressure and there was a lot of space created - hopefully that won’t happen the next day.”

But Allen was keen to support his half forward line.

“The two wing forwards have to do the most work in the team – they have to be under dropping balls, crowding out midfield. It’s a game that demands a huge amount of the wing forwards so they will run out of steam over 70 minutes .

“Trying to get the balance right is important – to have the hard workers there when the work needs to be done and have the scorers there when the game is opened up a bit,” outlined Allen, who is in his second season with Limerick.

Both Limerick and Cork will bring inexperienced teams into Sunday’s final but the manager is confident his players will be able for the occasions.

“Only Tom Kenny [Cork] has won a Munster medal on the field of play out of the two teams. They are inexperienced teams so getting the most out of them and getting them in a good state of mind is important.”

He also predicts a fast open final.: It will be a fairly traditional 15 v 15 game,” he surmised.

The bookies suggest that very little will divide Sunday’s finalists.

Allen had the Limerick mindset perfect to ambush Tipperary in the semi-final.

He again needs to get inside the heads of his players.

“I do think there is a place for what you say and knowing what to say to players and of course knowing when to hold off and I place a huge emphasis on that,” he explained.

“A team talk is just words for a team that is probably not ready to listen to you 25 minutes before a game but I am continually emphasising what you do in the week before – gym, hydrating, eating, training.”

Allen and selectors will name their team after training on Thursday evening.

Without giving anything away, he is not planning to follow in the foot steps of Warren Gatland or Eamonn Fitzmaurice with a dramatic team selection.

Allen has hinted that there could be “one or two” changes from the semi-final win over Tipperary, but he said that it won’t be anything as dramatic as dropping Brian O’Driscoll or Kieran Donaghy from the Lions and Kerry football teams respectively.

“If Warren Gatland can do it and Eamonn Fitzmaurice can do it, why not us?” he joked.

“I tend to be fairly conservative but at the same time you can’t ignore really good form in training and you just have to weigh up form, experience and the blend of the team.

“Touch wood everyone is more or less OK – obviously we have tweaks like Paudie O’Brien with a hamstring and James Ryan with a hand problem, but the medical advise is that they will be OK.

“There is always a chance someone will get injured right up to throw in time but so far so good. It’s great to have everybody available for the big games.”

His semi-final selection worked and he hoping to once again find the right blend. “We started the 15 that maybe caused some discussion and then we made changes that all worked but we also know that could the opposite. We have had two green versus whites inhouse games over the past fortnight and a number of players who didn’t start the last day have shown good form.

“The majority of the team will probably start the same as the last day but there might be a change or two but I don’t really know until what the four of us decide what the best 15 to start will be and what the best 20 will be and who will make the matchday panel.”

Thursday night will reveal all.