James Connery - Kilmallock Senior hurling manager
JAMES Connery is in year two as Kilmallock senior hurling manager. He took over a team that months earlier had reached a Croke Park All Ireland club final – losing to Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Over a week out from the 2017 Credit Union Limerick SHC final, Connery doesn't’ mince his words about his first season at the helm.
”There is a little bit more hunger - maybe we were a little bit complacent both on and off the field last year at times,” he outlined.
Last year had started so well with a victory over newly crowned All Ireland champions Na Piarsaigh in Newcastle West.
But the men in green came a cropper at the semi final stage to eventual champions, Patrickswell.
It’s clear from Connery that lessons were learned last year.
”It was always game by game because we felt quite disappointed with how we ended last year,” he said of 2017 targets.
”We took every game as it came and were quite happy to get through the group stages unbeaten and then the target was the semi final and we were not thinking beyond that, having played Patrickswell at the same stage last year it was always going to be a big ask,” he said.
“In Kilmallock the target is always a County Final but being realistic we had to take it game by game and to get back to where we were last year.”
He explains: ”We were probably that little bit naive last year going into the semi final. We have done more work this year and probably timed our run a bit better - we had an awful lot of work done at the beginning of last year. It’s nearly two championships - you get over the first part and then hope to prepare for the second part”.
“We were a little bit more realistic this year - when you get to this stage there can be a thought that you look too far ahead of yourself and maybe we were guilty of a bit of that last year and taking our eye off the ball a small bit and that’s why we set the target of getting through the group stages and then reassessing and preparing for the second stage of the championship,” outlined Connery.
While ‘The Balbec’ are now two seasons without a Daly Cup, they remain a vastly experienced club side. There are however subtle changes this season.
”Micheal (Houlihan) has been fantastic for us this year and we were lucky in that there is a huge amount of work being done at underage in Kilmallock and you have one or two coming through every year and we have Micheal, David Woulfe, Ciaran O’Connor all playing well,” explained the manager.
“We have a panel of 26/27 players and we, as a club, are lucky to have that in-depth talent. Being realistic we want to try and ensure our juniors get to a county final too – we tried to look after everybody in the club.”
Robbie Hanley, Dan Joy and Oisin O’Reilly won All Ireland U-21 medals last month but the names of Gavin O’Mahony, Paudie O’Brien, Eoin Ryan, Philip and Mark O’Loughlin, Barry Hennessy and captain Liam Hurley remain mainstays of the team.
”They are hugely experienced players and you can’t get away from that fact. From a management point of view, it doesn’t take a whole pile - you try and motivate them as best you can but they also motivate themselves. For me, it’s about making sure stuff is organised for them, that you guide them, reflect on where we have been and where we can improve going forward.”
Kilmallock arrive in the Gaelic Grounds decider with a 100% record.
”We haven’t set the world alight this year - just doing enough to get to where we are.”
He adds: “If we are to do well on Sunday it will take another huge step from where we have been so far. We definitely haven’t seen the best of what we can do this year”.
”I think there is still a little bit more left in us and with the realisation that if we are going to perform on Sunday we will need it.”
He explains: “It really is about getting the mind right - there are two really experienced teams on Sunday. Both well capable of winning a championship. I would think there won’t be a whole pile between the two teams and it will probably come down to whoever wants it more on the day and has that little bit more hunger for it and when you look at it Na Piarsaigh are a year out of the championship and ourselves two years out.”