Just shy of 20 minutes in Seamus Flanagan’s company is enough to understand the flame still burns in Limerick. The bonfires that heralded last August’s All-Ireland triumph have long since been extinguished but within these young men there remains a fury.
That has been suggested in plenty of what has been said by them in the wake of that glory. Defending a title doesn’t mean going on the defensive. Flanagan makes big claims because he expects to back it up.
“You know, people are saying that people can suss our game-plan — our game-plan is very hard to work out because it’s just work-rate, that’s all it is. It’s straight-up work-rate. Hooking, blocking, tackling.
“How do you create a game plan that can work against that? You can’t.
“All you can do is try to match our work-rate. We feel ourselves that no-one can match our work-rate, if someone gives 100%, we give 110%.
“Once you always have more work-rate, more hooks, more blocks, more possessions, then it’s hard to beat you. That’s something that we always strive towards (coach) Paul Kinnerk has instilled that in us, that there isn’t a specific game-plan.”
When John Kiely spoke about 2019 possibly being even better than last year for Limerick, he was basing it on what he is noticing among his players.
The group returned home from their team holiday in Cancun last weekend refreshed but also having had a few gym sessions while in Mexico. That was preceded by six on-field sessions and two Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League games. Also, the work in the gym has never stopped since beating Galway, Flanagan reports.
“There’s been an awful lot of taking the cup here, taking the cup there, getting pulled and dragged left, right, and centre. While that was enjoyable and we got great enjoyment out of it, I feel that everyone in the camp wants to get back into it because there’s just a hunger in the camp for more.
“We’re such a young team, average age of 23, and I don’t think this is the end of us, this is only the beginning of us.
“There are people who have got an All-Ireland medal but who maybe haven’t been on the panel or got game-time. They’re just itching to get in. I’ve been talking to a few lads who were on the extended panel last year and they were constantly working over that winter period to get bigger, stronger, fitter, whatever. So it’s going to be a hell of a battle to even get your position back next year.”
And Flanagan knows how he can. In games last summer like the Munster SHC draw against Cork and the All-Ireland final, he was superb in holding up the ball and laying it off for team-mates. His five-point return in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was his personal best but it is tallies like that he wants to hit more regularly in the season ahead.
“I was kind of more provider than sharpshooter last year. That’s something I want to bring to my game. I want to be coming out with maybe two or three points more than laying off the ball because looking back on my highlights from last year, there were a few times where I laid off the ball where I could have taken a shot. That’s something I can improve on this year.”
Flanagan’s Feohanagh-Castlemahon wouldn’t have a significant hurling pedigree but that obscurity wasn’t enough to avert Kiely’s eyes, though the player thought the manager had been mistaken in contacting him for a call-up in October 2017. “I actually asked John, I said, ‘Do you have the right number? This is Seamus.” I said that because that year, I hadn’t featured on the 21s team that won the All-Ireland at all. I think I played five minutes in additional time against Galway.
“Hadn’t featured at all. And I was just like, ‘No way can he be asking me to come into this team’.”
Flanagan made his senior debut in the Munster League clash with Cork in Mallow on December 30, 2017 and helped himself to 1-3 despite being “as white as a ghost” with nerves beforehand. Fast forward eight months and he looked to the manor born when giving a thundering shoulder to Gearóid McInerney in the opening minutes of the All-Ireland final.
Flanagan and his team-mates had been buoyed beforehand when Galway missed their cue to enter the field first.
“They were held back. Their manager Micheál Donoghue wouldn’t let them out before us. We felt ourselves that was the first nail in their coffin because mental warfare — they wouldn’t come out first and be on the pitch to hear our roar.”
However, it was some sage advice from Tommy Walsh on an Off The Ball podcast that provided the 22-year-old with the motivation to power into McInerney.
The former Kilkenny star had spoken about the danger of an All-Ireland final bypassing a player.
“I remember I said to myself ‘That’s not going to be me, I’m going to get onto a ball as quick as possible and do something as simple as possible with it and break myself into the game’. Before that hit on Gearóid, I suppose I was after getting three or four balls into myself and laid them off simply enough or whatever. Not necessarily in that moment but I remember thinking ‘this is an opportunity now, he’s coming out, put a halt to him’ and the way the thing worked out, it got the crowd going and players around you. Stuff like that happens.
“All well and good getting a score or a hook or a block but getting that physical contact because before the game it was all ‘Galway are the big physical team, they’re going to bully this young Limerick team into their second All-Ireland win’ and we were just told that we’re just as strong, just as big as them, and let’s inflict that on them and let’s not be bullied into this so the way things worked out, that’s what we did.
“There were a few more hits after that and I suppose the rest is history.”
Seamus Flanagan was speaking at the launch of the Electric Ireland Higher Education Championships where it was revealed some Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup games will be streamed live on its YouTube channel.
Tipperary goalkeeper Brian Hogan was also at yesterday’s event but was not permitted by senior hurling management to talk about the team.