LARRY RYAN: John Kiely takes on the hype at its own game

It is an audacious switcharoo that John Kiely has attempted. In an experiment rarely attempted in these fraught circumstances, the Limerick boss has turned all known precedent on its head, writes Larry Ryan.

He has hyped up hype.

The moment Kiely insisted, in the immediate aftermath of his side’s semi-final win, that there would be “no hype whatsoever”, he made this final all about the hype.

He made us hypersensitive to hype. He had us hyper.

Having stirred up this hypomania, having persuaded every writer and commentator in the business to write and comment about the hype, it would be no surprise now to learn that Kiely, behind closed doors, has been urging his players to play the occasion and not the match.

To make sure, whatever they do, not to treat this like any other game. To forget altogether about the ‘process’ and concentrate on the outcome. And maybe even try to control some of the uncontrollables.

Kiely is one to watch now. If they win this, he can take his place alongside Paul McGinley and his blue and yellow goldfish on the inspirational guru circuit.

To back up his double-bluff, Kiely has made sure a county is on message by sending mixed messages. So there have been some heroes of ‘73 happy to talk about 2018 but not about ‘73. And others happy to talk about ‘73 but not about 2018. And more not willing to say anything at all because John Kiely has warned about the hype.

Among them, Richie Bennis delivered a plea to supporters, released around the time the first of the final songs surfaced:

I hope they don’t start writing songs or poetry or anything about the bloody thing.

And having probably spent the first couple of weeks of the build-up power-washing any sheep he found daubed in the county colours, Kiely looked on content as the floodgates finally opened in the last few days, and hype burst its banks around the county.

As they erected mannequins in Banogue and smeared round bales with slogans in Bruff, and rapped about Cian Lynch’s hair in the Live95FM studios, all these people were fully aware they were performing gratuitous acts of hype. They were hyping self-consciously.

The question now is: Can Limerick handle this heightened level of self-awareness? In over analysing the hype, are they now immune to the hype?

In fairness, Kiely knew he had to do something drastic as soon as he heard Linger waft from the Croke Park tannoy in the moments after the win over Cork.

As the hurlers linked arms and Dolores’ voice never sounded more plaintive, Kiely surely saw his emotional, tormented people surge into dangerous territory.

It’s tearing me apart. It’s ruining everything.

As he watched his people cling together, high on pride and sorrow and destiny and certainty that their 45 years of hurt was nearly over, Kiely knew instinctively the hangover was going to be cruel. That a people would wake up on Monday morning gripped by an atrocious fear.

When he stormed into the presser after, threatening to shut things down, it could easily have been seen as a rush of blood, another example of the sort of needless aggression that has often cost Limerick dear.

But it was obvious Kiely was up to something. Doubly obvious when he was asked why he was so het up about the hype.

This is not to become an issue. It’s not an issue and that’s it,” he insisted, making it the only issue.

In doing so he granted the county a break from some of its insecurities. Spared them spending the last two weeks worrying that the first 10 minutes would go all wrong, like in 2007, or the last five, like ‘94.

Instead they could worry about hype. Hyperventilate even.

There might be more to it. There might be something else Kiely doesn’t want us talking about, while we’re talking about the hype; some grand scheme.

Or perhaps he just wants us to think there’s a grand scheme. You couldn’t put anything past a man who will take on hype.

Can it work for them? The Limerick mindset is mysterious. They don’t like to talk about their fears, only the things they don’t fear, notably Tipp and Clare. They look out beyond Annacotty to Ballina and the Silvermines — or out the Ennis Road — and they see nothing at all to fear. Sure they ushered most of us into life in the Regional.

The thing they fear most is hope.

On one hand, they more or less invented modern hype, as Damien Quigley suggested in Henry Martin’s book Unlimited Heartbreak:

It’s true to say that Clare and Ger Loughnane brought a lot of hype to the game, but it was in 1994 the colour really started when Limerick went bananas for hurling and there were Shaws jerseys everywhere.

But they tried to keep their distance in 2007. Richie Bennis went down to Cork and asked Donal O’Grady how they should cope with the hype and Donal told them all the things to be avoided. And then Richie opened the paper to see a few of his players opening a shop. Hype stole a march on them.

This time Kiely has fronted up to hype and marked hype tightly. Hype hasn’t yet sneaked in behind them.

It’s not without risk. Having made the build-up about hype, if the first 10 minutes goes badly wrong, they will wonder how lads could possibly perform when they have been cossetted in their bubble, away from the hype.

But at least Kiely will have given them someone to blame. And that’s important too.

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