Answering the call

WHEN Gary Kirby speaks about the passion that Richie Bennis has for Limerick hurling, he could well be talking about himself.

He’s driven by the same desire to get the county back into the top bracket of teams, motivated every bit as strongly to atone for the years of disappointment which he himself experienced as a player.

And in more recent times as an ordinary supporter.

And yet, as excited as he is to see the fruits of their labours reflected in steady progress in each game and qualification for Sunday’s All-Ireland final, he very nearly didn’t get involved. Just over a year ago, after Bennis called to see him after being asked to put an interim management in place, he turned him down. It wasn’t an easy decision to make at the time (Richie is his uncle) but he wasn’t in a position to make a commitment.

“I said no straight away. I had made a promise to Carmel that I would take a break for five years and was planning to stick with that,’’ he explained. His wife, who is from Kinsale, is the Fire Chief in Limerick and at the time his own working life had changed. He had become a ‘house husband,’ as he described it, for their three young children, now aged 3, 5 and 8.

“We talked about it when Richie left. Carmel thought it might be a good idea, to get a break from the home life. The minute she said it to me I was delighted, to be honest and I rang Richie back.’’

Of the two losing finals he was involved in, he feels that the 1996 failure to Wexford was the more disappointing — and the one which was to have the bigger impact. What happened two years earlier, against Offaly (who won with a flurry of late goals) was something that they ‘couldn’t recover from,’ he stated. “In the Wexford match we had loads of time to do something about it. Whatever happened, we never got it going. Definitely we could only blame ourselves for losing that on the field.’’

That was the game in which he suffered a broken bone in his hand as he contested a high ball with centre-back Liam Dunne in the opening minute.

Whatever about the fall-out for Limerick hurling from the second defeat in two years, he has no doubt that the turnover of managers was not ‘healthy.’ However, he felt that Dave Keane, the man who coached the three winning U-21 teams had been ‘unlucky.’

“Okay, we all make mistakes, but to get rid of him after one year I thought was harsh. You can’t chop and change managers and expect to get success.’’

While it might have been naïve to think that their success could be replicated at senior level, Kirby feels that (previous manager) Eamonn Cregan had made ‘a rash decision’ in leaving senior players go from the squad.

“They should have kept some of the senior players and blend in their experience with the younger players. Whether they were going to make the team or not I think the experienced fellows could have been an advantage to the players in training. Too many were got rid of too early, the like of Mike Houlihan and Dave Clarke, Mike and Declan Nash, Mike Galligan and Frankie Carroll.’’

When he gave up in 1999 (following the defeat to Waterford), he thought there ‘might’ have been a year or two left in him. Except that from the way things were going, he felt he wasn’t going to be involved. So, he made up his mind to go. At club level, he was ‘flying it’ for a few years afterwards. “That’s a different ball game lads. Club hurling and county hurling is different, we won’t go back into that.’’ But, for all the issues he would raise at management level, he wouldn’t agree that all the fault lay with them. At the end of the day, the players who were being picked weren’t producing it.

When they became involved initially, one of the biggest problems they addressed was a lack of confidence amongst the players. They also found to their surprise that players had been told (previously) ‘not to have shots at goal if they couldn’t score.’

“The first thing we tried to do was to get themselves to express themselves, the way they did with their clubs. That’s why they were picked. We felt that if they could bring that to the Limerick set-up, we were half-way there. We knew that it was in the players to do it for us.’’

Kirby dismisses the suggestion that it’s unrealistic to expect their team to perform as well in their first final as they did against Waterford. In fact, they want their team to step up on that display and he sees no reason why they can’t.

“We’re quite confident we will play better. In the second half we only scored two points from play against Waterford. That won’t be good enough in the final.’’

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