Limerick hurling boss John Kiely is focused on this weekend’s clash with Cork but he also acknowledges his side face a different challenge this year as All Ireland champions.
“That’s just the way it is. We have to cope with that, but that was the whole point. We always wanted to be successful, and now we are successful, or we’ve had a taste of it, we know it’s a hell of a lot better than 2017.
“I didn’t go home with a very sweet taste in my mouth after that experience and it’s not one I want to go back to.
“The championship is very evenly balanced in Munster, any team can beat any other on a given day - we saw the difference the width of a goalpost made in two matches - so we have to make sure our preparation and focus are right for May 19th.”
The Rebels will be smarting after defeat to Tipperary last Sunday.
“Cork beat us in the league and that’s a reflection of what can happen when the standard of your performance dips,” says Kiely.
“You’ll be punished by these teams, that’s the way it is.” He’s happy with the way his own team has dealt with success in the last 12 months:
“They know as they progress through their careers different experiences will come their way and their reaction to those will determine their growth as individuals.” Has All-Ireland success changed their manager?
“Every day you go out it’s the exact same. You’re depending on yourself to make the right decisions in terms of naming the team in the first place, the preparations, and whatever influence you can bring on the game, which is usually very small.
“Ultimately, it’s down to the players. It’s their team, it’s their performance, it’s up to them to do the work on the field. We’re on the sideline. Our influence can be very small on the day.
“I think I find it the exact same challenge that I’ve always done. You live on tenterhooks, hope you’re doing the right thing.
“Every day you go out in sport you’re trying to do your best, find a better level of performance and get the result you’re looking for. Every day you go out that’s difficult, there are so many teams out there at the moment that are capable of beating each other on any given day.
“That’s a great way to have it. If there was only one or two teams competing at the top level it wouldn’t be very entertaining or enjoyable to be part of.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s the last box. It’s a box I’m sure they would love to be part of. We all know how competitive that Munster championship is, how unique a competition it is.
"If you end up winning a Munster medal, you’ll have earned it. In the present era, you’ll have really, really earned it because you’ll have played five games.
“Five games to win a Munster medal – you’d have won an All-Ireland and maybe a Munster championship years ago with that. It’s a wonderful competition.
“It will be a different championship (this year), I’ve no doubt about that. Last year there was very few away wins in the championship; who knows this year you might end up with more away wins.
“Last year the games were extremely tight, maybe this year you’ll find some games not as tight.”
Will it be harder for Limerick as defending All-Ireland champions? Kiely feels it remains to be seen, though he stresses their status hasn’t changed them: “No, it doesn’t change anything at all. That was then, this is now, the 2018 championship has no bearing on the 2019 championship, it seems like an eternity ago.
“It has no bearing on what’ll happen - we have four games, there are two points available for each and we need to fight for those, but it’s all eyes on the first game.
“There’s a chance there every day you go out to perform well and be successful. I’ve seen nothing to think that these guys are anything but ambitious, hardworking. When you have those two ingredients you’ll give yourself a chance.
“They’re very, very young. It’s not like they’ve lost any appetite or hunger for it. if anything, it has increased their appetite and hunger for it. Because they’ve seen what it’s like to be part of a group that’s performing well.
“They’ve had a couple of tough years, they know what it’s like to be on the other side as well. When you’ve had the tough years you value the good times as well. They’ll be working hard to remain as competitive as they can for as long as they can.” That said, the break for club activity came at the right time.
“Absolutely. I don’t know how it’s done in other counties but in Limerick the clubs get the players back properly in that they train with them, and we don’t see them for three weeks.
“To be honest, after four months you’re probably ready for the break, and they’re probably the same.
“They were, too, so we were delighted with the break but we were happy to get back into it, too.”
The break gave him a chance to cast an eye over other sports as well. The Galbally man is always learning, witness his interest in European rugby.
“How do Leinster rugby repeatedly find ways of upping their performance at the key point of the year? Every year we see them respond with really strong performances when it comes to the European Champions Cup or PRO14. They always seem to find a way of performing well when it matters most.
"Why wouldn’t you listen to people like that if there is some learning to be got from it?”
Like Tiger Woods winning the Masters?
“I was confident he was going to win it that day. I fancied him to win it. He’s an iconic sportsperson. He garners incredible world attention.
"For him to come through the challenges he has come through in a career where he plummeted to the depths where he was 1,995th on the Order of Merit, had a series of operations on his back and was able to turn it around and win the most prestigious golf tournament in the world was one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time.”
Of course, Woods congratulated Limerick on last year’s All-Ireland win. Has he been in touch ahead of this weekend?
“In the world we live in, with Twitter, you can talk to anyone if you want to,” laughs Kiely. “But I wasn’t talking to Tiger, I can assure you, and Tiger wasn’t talking to me!”