Lavin: We don’t care what critics think

ON the field the Mohican-haired Stephen Lavin is a sight to behold in full flow and a hard man to stop.

Off the field too, in full eloquent flow, the temptation is to just step aside and let him off.

So it was in Portlaoise on Saturday evening after Limerick had defeated Wexford in a magnificent All-Ireland SFC qualifier which secured their progress to the last eight of the championship for the first time since the 19th century.

In the aftermath Lavin launched a verbal onslaught at those who have failed to give Limerick football the credit it deserves.

The task of facing Kerry in Croke Park on Sunday would have most players ducking for cover. Not Lavin though.

“I was furious after the Wexford game,’’ he said. “I was sick of it all and said what I had to say. I don’t care anymore what people say (about this team) — none of us care. Seanie Buckley (midfielder) doesn’t give a damn, Johnny McCarthy (full-back) doesn’t care who we’re playing.

“We are written off again, that’s grand, and look — we might get beaten by ten points, because this is a fantastic Kerry team. But we’ll go out to play football and we’ll give it 100% and if that’s good enough, fine, if not, we’ll come off the pitch with our heads held high, with respect for ourselves because we’ll know we’ve given it our all.

“I think we’re the least cynical team in the country, but we get no credit for that. We don’t go out with a single negative tactic in mind, there’s never been that kind of talk from any of our management team.

“There is no talk about fouling a particular player, getting in this guy’s face, provoking that guy so he gets sent off.’’

Lavin added: “All we want to do is play football as best we can, attacking football, and see where the chips fall.

“Against Kerry the first time we tried that they hammered the hell out of us (in the Munster semi-final). So maybe we’ll have to revise that a small bit. But that’s all we’re trying to do, play football.

“Against Wexford the referee awarded 31 frees in total. Has there ever been a championship game in recent times with so few frees? And only nine wides. Wexford were the same, they tried to play football also, and it was the same against Waterford and Offaly, there was no cynicism. We don’t go out to be negative, we go to play football.

“We’re conceding big scores, and that might be a problem against Kerry. We were hit for 1-17 against Wexford, you’d lose nine out of ten games with that, but we just go up and try and outscore whoever we’re playing.

“I see this as a huge opportunity for Limerick. Every game now for us is bonus territory. After the first Kerry game things were bad, we were embarrassed, completely deflated, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only wondering if this was the end of us.

“We’d been so competitive for the last ten years, came so close so many times, you were thinking, is this the end?

“But at the time even I didn’t realise what we had in this group, the spirit, the courage — it was struggling to come to the surface. But the character of the group is to the fore now, it’s almost ridiculous. Maybe that Kerry defeat was a blessing in disguise.’’

Lavin added that the prospect of taking on Kerry doesn’t faze him.

“We set ourselves a target of just taking it one game at a time — there was no point in looking too far ahead anyway.

“I didn’t care who we got in the draw, and I don’t care now. To me this is another game, another opportunity to go out and play football, and that’s all we’ve been doing, just playing.

“We haven’t become bogged down in taking it too seriously. We just go out and enjoy it. And you do enjoy it if you’ve given your all. And that’s the message that Maurice and Ephie and Joe (Horan, Fitzgerald, Lee, team management) are hammering home. You’re not going to enjoy any game unless you know at the end you’ve given it everything you have, for yourself, for your teammates, for your county.”

What of the dual players who opted for hurling, Stephen Lucey and Mark O’Riordan, will they be welcomed back?

“I’d welcome them back with open arms. They were forced to make a decision and no-one on the football team holds that against them. You can’t do anything about it anyway — it’s the very same as when you have an injury, like when Galv (John Galvin) went down we just had to get on with it. Lucey and Razor (Mark O’Riordan) left the panel to go with the hurlers — that’s out of your control so there was no point in dwelling on it.

“I remember last year I got injured, met Pa Ranahan (corner-back) and he said, ‘Look, you’re gone, that’s it, we keep going’. And that’s it, that’s the only attitude. We had something like 15 from last year’s panel missing at one stage, you’ve no choice but to keep going.

He’s a tonic, is Stephen Lavin, as open and honest off the field as on, and just as much character.

“Character, honesty, heart, can take you an awful long way in sport, sometimes it can more than compensate for lack of skill. No Limerick team, under Liam Kearns, under Mickey Ned, now under Maurice Horan, has ever lacked for character. We never caught a break but finally we did, against Wexford, and I know people will say it wasn’t a great break to then draw Kerry in the quarter-final.

“But I’d rather be up in Croke Park taking them on in an All-Ireland quarter-final than sitting on my backside at home watching Wexford do it!”

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