Mentally, this Limerick team are a different beast.
After Richie Hogan put Kilkenny two points to the good at a wonderful time for Brian Cody’s men in Thurles last Sunday, you just sensed the Treatymen were not for crumbling thereafter.
Previous Limerick teams yes, but not this crew.
The key ingredient for Limerick’s progressive summer was in defeating Galway in the league to secure Division 1A status for 2019. That victory afforded John Kiely’s outfit a platform to kick-on in these months and they are certainly utilising the springboard efficiently.
And, it seems, Limerick are getting better with each outing. They have been fine-tuning their game in the last two months or so and will be primed for taking on Cork next Sunday week at headquarters.
The format of the Munster SHC suited Kiely’s side, one that had to polish their collective output as the weeks were going on. Presently, they are in a position whereby one more massive display could ensure they are hurling at the big dance on August 19.
Kiely deserves immense credit for the evolution of this group. He is an understated character but comes across as the type of customer that is ruthless in his decision-making when so required.
Kiely appears to be a calming influence on the set-up as well in the sense he is able to maintain a steady development of his team minus the fanfare or him shouting from the rooftops about refereeing decisions that have gone against them.
Kiely’s levelheadedness is an understated weapon in Limerick’s arsenal, but a weapon nonetheless. Gareth Southgate has received words of praise from many pundits for a similar approach to England’s World Cup odyssey. Keeping feet on the ground when substantial gains are being made is not easy.
Yet, Kiely has shown himself to possess the capacity to guard against his players being anything other than fully focused on each step along the road.
And his appreciation of the reality of the situation Limerick now face in the All-Ireland semi-final will stand to his players in the next 10 days or so.
“We’ve created an opportunity for ourselves to go into a final and who will we be playing, Munster champions Cork, who have been exemplary all year, who put Clare to the sword. They drew with us in their third game in the round robin series, when most would have said they’d fall away. They didn’t,” Kiely said on Sunday.
“They nearly got the defining score that day, which would have meant we wouldn’t qualify out of Munster at all, only Sean Finn got a block on the ball.
“There have been lots of moments but they haven’t been defining moments for the team, the team is defined by itself, its own attributes, its own characteristics.”
However, how Kiely spoke about reacting to Hogan’s second-half major is most informative.
“And when you’re prepared for it, especially when fellas have been a couple of years in their preparation to get to this point, they have the resolve to do those things out on the field.
“That’s what it takes: You don’t deserve to be in an All-Ireland semi-final unless you can do things like that. It’s a moment to savour but there was no medal given out at the end of it,” Kiely explained.
And those sentiments are that of a man with complete conviction in his managerial qualities.
Being prepared for moments such as Hogan’s goal tends to be the difference between a side ready to capture honours and those that are left so shell-shocked by such an occurrence they are then left vulnerable.
Making sure his players knew that conceding a goal, especially in the context it was conceded, was not the end of the world sends a particular signal to those taking to the field.
The message is essentially this: ‘Whatever the opposition does to try and puncture us, we will find a way to stay afloat regardless’. By taking the stance that the opposition may well get a goal at a vital time, but that it is perfectly fine if it happens, means the players’ confidence is likely to increase.
Dealing with adversity adequately is a true sign of potential champions. And, in fairness, Kiely is presiding over a lot of players now that have enjoyed All-Ireland U21 success so they are not lacking for medals in their adult hurling careers as it is.
Whether it is this year or next, Limerick are in a particularly fantastic place in terms of challenging for the All-Ireland SHC title. There have been false dawns in the past. Yet, I have felt since the start of the league that Limerick were the one side capable of going deep into the summer competition this term. And it is that mental steel they seem to possess which marries well with Kiely’s chilled nature.
They meet Cork and are probably slight favourites to advance to the decider. The momentum they are building currently is worth its weight in gold. However, the Rebels are in outstanding form and will have learned from the counties’ clash in the Munster SHC.
It could be a blockbuster.
Cork will have their work cut out to deny Kiely’s men.