Much to the delight of the Limerick players, Mr Whippy has returned to the set-up.
A prominent figure in the backroom team last season, the sight and sound of the ice-cream van coming into the Gaelic Grounds was an indication they were moving in the right direction. But it had been absent in the early part of this summer.
“We’re getting the odd one now,” laughs captain Declan Hannon.
“We didn’t deserve one there for a while, but we’ve got one or two in the last couple of weeks. We’re sad enough — we get a free ice-cream and we’re delighted with ourselves! You hear the music coming in and you get a bit excited.”
After last month’s emphatic Munster final win, John Kiely had cause to reward his players, but this is a group who knew themselves after the losses to Cork and Tipperary that treats were not warranted.
Admired for how they carried themselves in the wake of last year’s All-Ireland success, those setbacks earlier this summer were never about them getting ahead of themselves. Hannon is proud of how aware his team-mates are of their position representing the county and carrying that champions’ mantle.
“There’s a responsibility to conduct yourself in the right way when you’re out and about the town or around their villages, that they aren’t messing or acting the maggot or anything like that. In fairness, our lads are so grounded that they go away quietly about their business and that’s the way I like to do things as well, keep the head down and whatever you have to do, do it, and get it out of the way.
I was once told to say nothing and keep saying it, and I’ll try and stick by it. There is responsibility and you have to be aware of your surroundings and everything like that. Since last year, the boys have been doing that well.
“It comes as second nature to the boys. It’s the way they are. They’re not putting on a show or acting any differently to the way they normally would. You just have to be more aware that there are more eyes on you than there was a couple of years ago when Limerick weren’t too successful.”
Those losses had transformed the Munster final into a make-or-break game for Limerick, and Hannon knows itrecognises that.
“It was a Munster final; of course, we had to win it. A third defeat would have been demoralising and set us back again and trying to recover from a third defeat in the championship would have been a very tough thing to do.
“We got out to win every game and we were massively disappointed with how we performed against Cork the first day. We had a lot to work on after that and a lot of things to improve on. It breaks your momentum and your confidence and it sets you back a small bit.
“Tipperary were better than us then in Thurles, as Cork were. We focused on getting a performance onto the field and in the two games we lose we didn’t do that and in the two we won we did do that.”
A recruitment consultant with Unijobs DAC based on the UL campus, at just 26 years of age Hannon is in his 10th senior season. For the likes of Aaron Gillane, success has come a lot easier but his captain was involved at a time at the start of the decade when Limerick went six Championship games without a win.
It hasn’t always been so rosy in the garden in Limerick and we’re well aware of that. I think we appreciate it a bit more seeing as a lot of Limerick teams have gone by and come so close and we just didn’t get over that line. We’re very appreciative of what they did.
Saturday marks Limerick’s first All-Ireland semi-final as Munster champions in six years, that defeat to Clare when Hannon missed three first-half frees and a 65 before Shane Dowling took over duties. It’s a game he’s long since moved on from, but he doesn’t deny it remains in his psyche.
“Ah sure, it’ll always be there. It’s a fact that the day didn’t go my way or Limerick’s way. It was obviously tough, but winning the All-Ireland like we did last year and the Munster this year, you appreciate the successful days a lot more than if you didn’t suffer a bit in defeat. It’s part of sport and you just have to get back on the horse because you’ll never win if you throw in the towel. Look, that happened in 2013 and it’ll always be there, but I have to try and move on and, as a panel, we’re strong enough and we’ll keep going.”
See off Kilkenny in five days’ time , and Limerick will become only the third Munster team other than Cork (1999, 2003, ’05, ’06) and Tipperary (2001, ’09, ’11, ’16) to reach an All-Ireland final as provincial champions in 22 years. The gap from the final has been a hindrance for so many teams, but Hannon places a lot of trust in Kiely and co to bridge it.
“We’ve a great management team there who have had the weeks planned out meticulously and doing everything for the benefit of the team so that we will be in the best possible shape for Saturday.
“It is a challenge, but we’re looking forward to tackling it head-on, and if we can get to the 27th in good condition and give a performance then we’ll be there or thereabouts.”
Declan Hannon is one of four ambassadors for this year’s Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camp, which is open for registration now on gaa.ie/kelloggsculcamps, Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps isIreland’s biggest children’s summer camp.