Hayes determined to maintain winning habit

THICK OF IT: Kilkenny’s Conor Fogarty is dispossessed by Limerick’s Aaron Gillane and Kyle Hayes in Sunday’s Allianz League clash at Nowlan Park. Limerick’s victory was their 15th in 18 league and championship games and Hayes insists their hunger for success has not been sated by last year’s All-Ireland success. Picture: Ryan Byrne

Before last Sunday, no Limerick team had beaten Kilkenny in the Allianz League at Nowlan Park during Kyle Hayes’ lifetime.

The 2018 All-Ireland final man of the match was only born in 1998, a year after Limerick beat the Cats in the league semi-final at the Kilkenny city venue.

Yet the young attacker has insisted their big win wasn’t motivated by wanting to lay down a marker against a county that had traditionally dominated them.

Limerick led by 14 points with 20 minutes to go and could afford to ease up and still win by nine as they maintained their 100% start to the campaign.

“We didn’t at the start of the league say: ‘Jeez, we have to come up to Nowlan Park to play Kilkenny and to win at that ground’,” said Hayes.

“We never look at any game like that. We’re looking forward to Cork next weekend and last week we looked forward to playing Kilkenny. There isn’t any more to it than that.”

It was a considerable statement all the same as Limerick did what Kilkenny teams under Brian Cody have been doing for years by killing the game with a burst of scoring.

Both their goals in the 2-18 to 0-15 win came in the 34th minute with just 33 seconds passing between Shane Dowling hitting the net and Conor Boylan doing likewise. Two minutes earlier the sides had been level at 0-7 apiece.

When play resumed in the second-half, Limerick reeled off four points without reply to nip any potential Kilkenny revival in the bud, amounting to a 2-7 blitz.

“There was a massive wind there in the first half, there’s no point saying there wasn’t,” said Hayes. “We knew they were going to come out at us with all guns blazing in the second half, they always do, they try to bury teams that way.

“All we tried to do was weather the storm and to kick on ourselves and put the pressure on them for the first 10 minutes of the second half. We seemed to do that and it worked out well for us.”

The win, which has virtually secured Limerick’s place in the quarter-finals of the league, was their 15th from the last 18 league and Championship games.

Since losing to Kilkenny in the 2017 qualifiers they have suffered just two defeats and appear hellbent on proving that last year’s All-Ireland breakthrough was no one-off.

“Winning is a habit and that’s what you want to keep doing,” said Hayes. “We want to just keep on this path and to stay on an upward trajectory performance-wise. We’re moving around the squad too, thankfully we have a massive squad there and any person that comes in is putting everyone’s place under pressure.”

Boss John Kiely praised his players’ form and hunger, noting that “a lot of them went two or three months without hurleys in their hands” over winter.

Hayes said there was never any doubt that the players might be satisfied with last year’s success and drop their standards.

“Of course not, some teams might have done that but everyone on our team bus, and everyone at home, we’re not happy with just one (All-Ireland). We wanted to get back into hurling as soon as we could and just drive on with it this year.”

Limerick host Cork on Sunday, three months ahead of their Munster championship meeting there.

“Cork, they’ll be really gunning for it, especially after beating Clare,” said Hayes. “And they’ll be looking forward to coming down to Limerick because we’ll be playing them there in the Championship as well.”

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