‘I said it after the game, this is not the end. It’s the beginning’ - John Kiely on the future of Limerick hurling

The morning after the night before and Limerick manager John Kiely is making more than a fair shape at encapsulating the enormity of what happened on Sunday in Croke Park into a 25-minute conversation with journalists. Here’s the guts of it.

Q: You’ve been able to sleep on what was achieved. Has the night helped to reflect on it?

John Kiely: “Not really, no. Ah sure, we’ve been through the crappy banquets. Where you have nothing to bring back to the banquet and everybody is very disappointed and it’s a hard occasion. 

“It’s a very hard occasion. So it was fantastic to have the real deal last night and have that special occasions where you come into that room with what everybody had come to see. That’s why people come to banquets.

“At the end of the day, there was four tables from my own parish in Galbally. That’s a lot, like. That’s 40 people who wanted to be there with us and share that occasion. And of course, your family are all there. 

“They know what’s been put into it. They’ve heard the door opening at one or two o’clock in the morning when you were heading out into the backyard to look up at the stars and figure out the solution to some problem that you were worried about.

“So, yeah, it was great to have our family and our club-mates there. Even just for us as a group to sit down together last night and dance it off, if you like.” 

Q: How has this position impacted on your day job as principal of Abbey CBS in Tipperary town?

JK: “Obviously, it does have an impact. There’s no getting away from that, but I’ve huge support from the board of management. The staff is incredible in terms of their support.

“I’ve actually only taken off two days in two years, two full days where I actually wasn’t in school, so that means you’re there until half four, five o’clock, then you’re gone out the door like a bullet to get to Rathkeale or the Gaelic Grounds. 

“It’s just a busy day. That’s all. I’m not the only one in the country that’s busy. Everyone’s busy, like.

“It’s just the responsibility, because when you get to training, you have to be on point and in control and everything needs to be... people need to know stuff, like. Paul Kinnerk needs to know how many players are there for training so he can design the session around those numbers.

“Listen, we managed it quite well this year. We didn’t allow the phones to take over. Sometimes, the phones can take over and you can do all your business over the phone.

“Sometimes, you might have to just tell people ‘sorry’ and that’s it, but listen, we’ve done the best we can, but to go back to your question, of course it does have an impact. Some of it is a challenge. 

“Most of it is very positive, because young fellas, they see me every day on the corridors, in the classrooms, in the office, out of the pitch.

“For kids to understand that the teacher they know or knew can be involved in such a special thing, that’s great for them to figure out: He was a pupil here, he was a teacher here and now he’s lucky enough to go on and do this, so when I say to the lads ‘if you work hard enough, good things will happen’ they know I’m coming at that from a viewpoint that stacks up. 

“They know I work hard at it. They know I’m in there every morning. They know I’m last in there most evenings.” 

Q: How do you make sure this isn’t another 1973 and Limerick have to wait again?

JK: “I just wouldn’t buy into that at all. That wouldn’t even enter my head. I said it after the game yesterday, this is not the end. It’s the beginning. It’s a new beginning.

“I’m just so thrilled for all the young kids that are at home this morning with young kids in Limerick, because that’s the real dividend from this, that spin-off for the thousands of youngsters that are going to go around with hurleys this week, next week and the week after, dreaming of being Cian Lynchs and Shane Dowlings and Peter Caseys and all these guys and not thinking they should be Seamie Callanans or Patrick Horgans or Henry Shefflins, even though they’re great players.

“They have their own standards and their own heroes.”

Q: You warned journalists after the semi-final that you would “shut the whole thing down” as regards media if they contacted players for interviews. Were your words heeded?

JK: “What I’ll say about that now is, on a personal level, number one, after the semi-final was a very difficult situation. You’re being pulled and dragged, left, right and centre, fired into a room full of reporters and I’m a fighter, so when I’m put into a corner, I will fight. That’s the bottom line.

“I fought that day, because everybody came down off those benches and landed on with their devices (dictaphones) and my instinctive reaction was to fight and protect.

"I'm a protector, I’m a teacher, I’m a parent. I wanted to protect the people that mean most to me and I was protecting the Limerick players."

“That was my reaction. That’s who I am. The people who know me most will know that’s what my initial reaction will always be, to protect the players. That was why that happened. I’ve no issue with it. I was quite happy with it afterwards. The following day by 11am I had six players who had been individually contacted by various media outlets. So they were confused.

“Once they pushed back, that was the end of it that day, but it still happened.

“The bottom line is I know what it is to have my phone on, on a daily basis in school and get 10, 15, 20 phone calls from various outlets and it just takes too much time and it’s hard to make that time and it’s hard to get that much personal energy to invest in all that, so it did help an awful lot that we were left to do what we wanted to do for the three weeks and that’s continuing to do what we were doing all year: Just go to training, go to work and get on with our preparations.

“We still enjoyed the build-up as well, you know. My own village at home in Galbally was nuts. I haven’t been in the village for very long, I’ve gone down for a haircut or a newspaper or whatever it might be, but I’m looking forward to going down there tomorrow or the day after and spend a few hours and enjoy what they enjoyed for the last few weeks.” 

Q: The county, former players, seemed to be mindful not to haunt this team and show them respect?

JK: “Ah yeah, those lads were probably very anxious to pass on the mantle. They were ready to do it in the 80s, they were ready to do it in the 90s, it just didn’t happen. They’ve been great.

“Even last night at the banquet, they were so understated, they were so behind the scenes. Eamonn Grimes (1973 All-Ireland winning captain) spent 10 seconds with me. He was just so happy to have it passed onto Declan (Hannon). They were great, they were incredible. They’re incredible men. We would have spoken about it from time to time and the fact that they were just human like us and they managed to do it, so why not? That was it.” 

Q: When you took over, what did you feel could be done better?

JK: “We’ve a really strong group of people around us. Paul Kinnerk was key in terms of the hurling coaching side of it, Joe O’Connor in terms of the strength and conditioning. He had only done one year before I came in. He’s got three years done and you can see that in the players. He’s top-class, world-class I would say.

“Joe is, exceptional. Brian Geary, Jimmy Quilty, Alan Cunningham all bring their own individual kind of traits to it. Brian brings the experience of 2007 and being a player who was highly regarded, Jimmy Quilty has been on the circuit of clubs and was there in ’15 with the U21s and was incredible there. Alan Cunningham, obviously with Na Piarsaigh and Clare, brought great experience. A great cohort of people there straight away.

“That was the core group, then there was Caroline Currid, who came in and gave us that bit of guidance where we needed it, because she had been through all this before. She knew the map, if you like, so we listened to her guidance.

“The backroom team as a whole, the standards rose. It’s all about the standards. That’s why we did the boxing because the previous year the standards were allowed to let slip, because fellas weren’t challenging enough, whereas this year the standards were set because of the boxing. There was no drop. I don’t think there was a single session I went home unhappy about.

“We tidied up things and took out a few bits that were a burden on fellas. We simplified things, took out a lot of the rubbish that was in there. We simplified things, kept communication to a minimum instead of bombarding these lads with communication. They’re only 20, 21, 22.

"Kyle Hayes doesn’t want 20 texts a day, he just wants to know where he is to be on a Tuesday and a Friday;‘that’s it, boss, leave me alone’, so we left him alone."

“I didn’t speak to the players this week on my own. We left them alone. Players need to be left alone. If I ring them, they could spend four or five hours and they’re thinking about what the conversation was about, so that’s a whole load of bloody energy wasted. It doesn’t need to be done.” 

Q: What were the pivotal games of the year for you? The Division 1 semi-final loss to Tipperary after extra-time, even though you were praised for the performance?

JK: “That was strange, wasn’t it? That was strange.

“Yeah, we played well, but lost and I was very unhappy with that. I was very unhappy with the message board, if you like, around that.

“We had played well, but I just didn’t like the softness of the mentality of being happy with defeat, because we were in a semi-final and we had qualified out of 1B. I was really unhappy with that. That ground with me a small bit, but, having said that, did it help us going into the championship match in May? Maybe a little. Maybe a little. In a hurling context, the Galway (Division 1B win in Salthill) was big. We didn’t acknowledge that during the course of the season but that was a fairly big moment above there. We were, what, eight points down, nine points down?

“Half-time, the temptation was there to make a few changes and we went into the dressing room with a completely different message. We told the players: ‘No, we’re here, you’re eight down, we’re trusting ye 100%, ye can turn this around’, and they took great confidence from that.

“We didn’t panic or we didn’t react or we didn’t lay blame anywhere. We were just happy to keep going, we stuck to the process, we stuck to the game plan and that was massive.

“That was massive and it gave the lads great satisfaction to have gotten out of 1B. That just was such a weight off our shoulders. Jesus, it was like a millstone over our back. Eight years.”

Q: A structure change cost Limerick top-flight status too.

JK: “It did and that was a bit of a bitch too, but you just take it on the chin and get on with it, so just to get out of 1B was a massive, massive thing, a confidence thing and I think the one season that we wanted the system to change in the championship, it came at the right time.

“I knew this championship was designed for us. We had a massive panel of players, young players. Recovery was going to be quick.”


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