Before the All-Ireland final John Kiely spoke of the abusive correspondence he — and other intercounty managers — had received.
Winning a first All-Ireland in 45 years changes that narrative.
“A lady in Fermoy was cleaning out her at home at 92 years of age with her son and they came across two lovely pictures of Mick Mackey and John Mackey from 1945,” says Kiely now.
“The picture was taken on the pitch in Fermoy during a game against Cork. They sent them on anonymously to me, I don’t know who they are.
“Maybe they might make contact with their names because I’ve actually passed on those photographs to the two Morrisseys now, to Dan and Tom (of Ahane, like the Mackeys), to the proper resting place for those photos right now.
“So two brothers back with two brothers maybe. Yeah there has been some lovely stuff and I’m very appreciative of all the things that came my way.”
The tone of the correspondence has changed significantly then?
“Listen, there was probably a lot made of it at the time but people have been fantastic, really, people from all over the world — we got letters of thanks and appreciation from all over the globe.
“People telling us their own stories, people in America without green cards who couldn’t come home for the All-Ireland, they were heartbroken they couldn’t be there.
“And we met some of those people when we were over in Boston and Chicago and New York when we were on our trip and we took great satisfaction that we were able to bring the Cup over to those people because they’re almost in exile, if you like, because they can’t come home.
“It meant a huge, huge amount to those people and it was a great privilege and pleasure for us to be able to bring the Cup to them and make up for the fact they couldn’t be home at the game.
“They’d make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, reading it (the correspondence). There were some very, very difficult stories that people had to tell of loss, missing out on their own parents’ funerals and things like that.”
On the flip side, there were celebrations.
Whether through accident or design, the footage of how Limerick toasted their victory isn’t as widespread as that of a certain club in Donegal.
“We wouldn’t be as good as Gaoth Dobhair at it,” laughs Kiely.
And Limerick’s celebrations?
“There’s probably a lot that goes with being All-Ireland champions in terms of expectations around engagements to be fulfilled or in terms of going to schools and colleges and hospitals and clubs in particular.
“It’s been great and the reception in the schools has been fantastic, the lift it has given the kids in the schools has been just incredible.
“Donal O’Grady is involved with the underage academy and I think they had 170 trying out for one age group and 150 for another age group so there’s a spin-off already in terms of youngsters looking to further themselves and challenge themselves at higher standards which is fantastic to see.
“There’s been lots of positive spin-offs of it and we’re delighted with that, long may it last.
“Going home to my own club was incredible, it’s probably a bit of a blur to be honest about it. It came very soon after the All-Ireland and there were so many people there you didn’t get to meet.
“They (Galbally) won the county intermediate football championship as well so they’re back up senior and Garryspillane are back up senior in the hurling so we’ve plenty to celebrate out our way.
“The nature of celebrating All-Irelands has changed, fellas are busy with their clubs as well for months and the club scene is taken so much more seriously now, a lot of lads are back at work, back in college, they’ve a lot of demanding stuff going on for themselves. I suppose it’s not the same as what it used to be but we’ve still had a couple of great nights out.”
Limerick play in the Co-0p Superstores Munster senior hurling league this side of Christmas to facilitate their team holiday to Mexico, and then it’s back to work: 2019, a new season.
What chance back to back All-Irelands?
“Last year we were looking to know how we could close a gap of 45 years. You’re talking about closing a gap of nine months.
“I’ve no doubt it’s going to be very difficult and a huge challenge. But we’ve risen to any challenge that has been put in front of us in the last couple of years. The players have come through this phase really well, I’m really happy with where they’re at.
“They’re a very ambitious bunch of lads and we will really go and do our level best again — like we do all the time. Every time we play, we go out to win.
“I know there’s going to be a huge challenge brought to us from the other teams in the competition. But that’s a different perspective, it was one we had for 45 years. We were always the ones trying to bring the challenge to the other teams for being successful. I think we’ll relish the opportunity of meeting that challenge head on.”
Will 2018 liberate the next generation of Limerick hurlers?
Kiely will have to plan without Seamus Hickey, of course, who retired last week: “Séamus had a fantastic career. I think it was just wonderful for him on a personal note that he could bow out in the manner in which he did, winning an All-Ireland medal.
“He gave an awful lot to Limerick hurling, was a completely and utterly 100% dedicated hurler. He always did everything to the very, very nth degree, in terms of his preparation on and off the pitch. A real professional was what I would describe him as.
“What he also did what I thought was very admirable, he answered whichever call any manager gave him in terms of playing in any given position.
“He always took on all of those roles with steely determination and a sense of servant, he was a servant really is what you’d call him. He always did what was right for the team, what he was asked to do for the team. And I think that was one of his main strengths really.
“Is it a young man’s game? I don’t know is it necessarily that. He has had a couple of serious enough injuries during his time as well.
“He has his career, he has his family, he has his club to play with. You can’t do everything, maybe. His family made a lot of sacrifices for him to do what he did for many years. So I think now Séamus feels it’s his time to give back to them maybe, and that’s very admirable as well.
“I think Limerick owes him an awful lot for the service he’s given. I don’t think Seamus owes Limerick anything. It’s nice for him to go out the way he did.”
Interestingly, Kiely says they didn’t lean on Hickey’s experience of the 2007 All-Ireland final too much: “All of the other players had played in All-Ireland minor finals, All-Ireland U21 finals, had won and lost in all cases.
“So there was a lot of experience of big days in that squad and I think it was kind of maybe not appreciated going into the final, but these guys have a great track record in finals.”
And now they’ll have Division 1A experience to lean on, with Limerick winning promotion last year from the second tier.
“We spent eight years in Division 1B,” says Kiely.
“I think that was a major deterrent for Limerick teams in the past to advance in the championship. It stunted our development, really, as a county in terms of hurling over those eight years.
“And we’re very much looking forward to the challenge, we’ve obviously been watching the Division 1A going forward for the last number of years and it’s hugely, hugely competitive.
“They’re all difficult games and they’re played at a championship level of intensity and everyone gives it their all, so we’re really, really looking forward to it.”