John Kiely: ‘You’re either up there, at it, or you’re not’

Bon Secours Hospital Limerick at Barringtons manager Jason Kenny holding the John Daly Cup along with Limerick manager John Kiely and Limerick hurlers Shane Dowling, Declan Hannon, andCian Lynch at the announcement of Bon Secours Hospital Limerick at Barringtons sponsorship of the Limerick club SHC. Picture: Diarmuid Greene

Limerick manager John Kiely finally got to see Aaron Gillane’s instinctive Allianz Hurling League final goal last Sunday evening.

It was worth the wait.

“It was a phenomenal touch. He clearly meant what he was trying to do.

“I didn’t see it on Sunday because I had my back turned, talking to the selectors, and when I turned around the ball had ended in the back of the net.

“It was a fantastic piece of skill. Those are lovely moments for lads to have, and to do it in Croke Park is even sweeter.”

The individual touch within a playing system?

“Absolutely,” said Kiely.

We all have our processes and our systems and God knows what else but ultimately it comes down to natural ability, and stuff lads do in their local GAA fields at six years of age, the dreams they have.

“If you have that then that’s the bit of magic that comes with the processes and the systems put in place beside them.

“He’s had a great spring, fair play to him. He’s very young to have achieved what he has.

“I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but to come back and have a fantastic Fitzgibbon, to captain his college, to come back and have a great league with us, it puts him in good stead going forward.”

Kiely said he’d have accepted a league title as a championship springboard if offered that option last autumn.

“You’re not going to keep all the people happy all the time, that’s something we have to accept.

“That’s the biggest thing we did at the start of the year, we accepted that it wasn’t going to be easy, that it was going to be very difficult.

“We accepted that from the word go but it almost made it easier, to accept that from the word go.

“We’ve been delighted to latch onto any positives as we went along, but ultimately if I were asked last August if we’d have accepted a league title this spring as a launchpad for the championship — absolutely, absolutely.”

Aaron Gillane shows his delight after Limerick beat Waterford in last weekend’s Allianz HL final at Croke Park. Picture: James Crombie
Aaron Gillane shows his delight after Limerick beat Waterford in last weekend’s Allianz HL final at Croke Park. Picture: James Crombie

Paul Kinnerk and Joe O’Connor of the Limerick management were involved in Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland. Have they shared their experience of defending that title the following season?

“We didn’t discuss it massively. Ultimately our philosophy that no matter what’s happening we want to get on with it and win every game we play, and I think we’ve managed things well — as a management team — in terms, say, of integrating lads into the team who didn’t get on the starting team last year. 

"They’ve made more of an impact this year because they’ve had more time under their belt.

“Obviously fellas are very keen to make the 26, to make the team, so that brings a great levelling to the group. 

"The players are under pressure — more pressure within the group than they are outside it, because players are finding it very difficult to break into the team.

“When you have that it’s very easy to focus minds.”

Kiely has experience of defending U21 All-Ireland titles as a manager, which taught him a lot.

“I think at the time we probably accepted some of the defeats in challenge games as things we could recover from easier than we did.

“This thing, you can’t just switch it on and off; you’re either up there, at it, or you’re not.

“It’s not something can be fixed in a month, you have to put in the hard graft, and fair play to the lads, they’re great at that. All the credit goes to them, they’re top lads.”

And management. Did he enjoy the league title?

“I enjoyed Sunday because I was in the dressing-room with them afterwards — I missed the dressing-room after the All-Ireland, I only got in there for the tail-end of it and I was very annoyed over that subsequently, because you do have to enjoy it.

“It’s only a short phase of our lives, I won’t be here forever and neither will the lads.

“We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve had two really great days in Croke Park in the last 12 months.

“To get back there again will take a huge effort. We look forward to that day and hope it’ll happen in the near future, but it might not, so we’ll have to enjoy every single day we get.”

It’s April, but thoughts already turn to the championship. What were the lessons learned from last year?

“Going to Clare, on the back of what we’d done, was always going to be difficult.

We hadn’t won a championship match for years and then all of a sudden we’d won two and drawn one. That was probably a little difficult at the time for us to cope with, especially the younger players.

“Last year’s experience will hopefully stand to us this year but everyone knows Munster is cutthroat.

“If you lose, especially your first game, then you’re really on the back foot. It’s very difficult.”

Then there’s the visit to Walsh Park ...

“It’ll be great,” says Kiely. “That’s one thing about the Munster championship, these are great sporting occasions. 

"We’ve been through the system where you might only have one of those occasions and it mightn’t go too well for you, so to have four of them each summer — it’s a great thing.

“Imagine if there were only one Major in golf. Everyone looks forward to the Majors, and these are the Majors of May and June.”

Meanwhile, Kiely paid tribute yesterday to Paddy English, father of Limerick player Richie, who passed away over the weekend.

“I was only talking to Richie about his dad yesterday evening, an incredible man who endured a very difficult illness for many years.

“He was a great advocate for getting on with life and celebrating life, and he took great delight in seeing Richie play for Doon and Oola and Limerick, and for him to be there to see his son win an All-Ireland — so for Richie and the family to have that as a reference point... he’ll (Richie) be absolutely devastated right now but he has great support from the group we have here and from his own group in Doon.

“Life brings these challenges, and a lot of people within the group have lost people in the last 12 months.

“John Cregan lost Mary (his daughter), for instance. That’s where the real team comes together — when your teammates have suffered a loss. 

"They’ve supported Richie through thick and thin and I’ve no doubt they’ll be with him again now.”

GAA podcast: Quirke and Dalo's Allianz League Review, with Ger Cunningham and John Divilly

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