Billy Lee on commitment, demands and earning the right

The Limerick boss says the county's players have done the hard yards and deserve everything they get
Billy Lee on commitment, demands and earning the right

KEEPING UP: Limerick manager Billy Lee displays his footballing skills before the Munster semi-final win over Tipperary

Starting

Billy Lee was part of the group tasked with finding a Limerick football manager back in 2016, and as often happens with such groups in Gaelic games, they ended up looking close enough to home for the manager. Very close.

Lee famously began his tenure with dozens of phone calls coaxing players in to form a panel. Now he’s facing a Munster final against Kerry.

"A lot of the lads we have now were coming and going around then.” 

Lee was flexible. With the strength and conditioning demands on young players trying to reach senior intercounty standard (“Very few 19, 20, 21-year olds make it, the ones that do are the exception - David Clifford, Colin Coughlan or Cathal O’Neill”) Lee saw his younger players travelling hours for training in Limerick, not seeing action in the league because they weren't ready for it, while their friends were enjoying college life.

“They were getting pissed off - they’re better off being left alone until they’re finished and come out into the big bad world. They’re readier for it then and we put them on programmes.

“Lads were getting fed up travelling up and down from college in Galway or Cork, they were getting home at 12 and going to bed at 2 in the morning - and for what? They were training with us but not getting game-time.

“But they could do their S&C away from us, they could stick to the books and come back to us when they were ready.

“Most of them are back now, there were others who opted out for different reasons, but that’s just the journey. Putting the priorities first - intercounty is important but there are way more important things, and sometimes we lose sight of that.” 

II 

Committing

Lee is asked if his last real holiday was the one he took just before his appointment as manager.

“The last peaceful one anyway,” he laughs.

“Your mind is elsewhere. When I used to mind my old man at home, I'd go up to the house and he'd ask a question about this, that and the other but your head is all over the place.

“That's just my perspective on it. I went out for dinner with my family yesterday, my daughter's birthday - and there's absolutely no switching off.

“It's demanding, and it's demanding on families. I'm lucky enough, my daughter is 34, Jamie is 30 this year. When you take John's (Kiely) situation, people with young kids, that's demanding.”

The commitment has to be shared by others. Like administrators.

“There was never really any pressure. The only real pressure was when the interview was done here after the Clare game (in 2018), in fairness to the county board they stepped up and backed us all the way, I couldn't be more complimentary to them.

“We got the same nutritionist as the hurlers, the same video man, we've got the same management team in terms of they've got this, we've got that.

“I suppose the way I look at it is no-one’s going to give you a promotion in your job unless you earn it. Anything you do you have to earn it, when you start earning it you get a bit more and we said to the lads 'Don't go looking for stuff, go and earn it’.

“I remember a meeting with the players in December 2017 or '18 and they were on about gear to me.

“At the time I felt they wanted to look more like an intercounty footballer than be an intercounty footballer. A few of the boys came to me and they weren't happy with the meeting and the way it was going, they were experienced players and they filled me in.

“From there I'd go around checking with some boys about standards and what's involved, the sacrifice.

“It's not how you look, it's how you act and how you do it so you earn it. They've done the hard yards so they deserve everything they get in my eyes.” 

That interview after the Clare game is a reference to the 2018 Munster SFC game when Limerick had a player on the bench who couldn't be used due to an administrative oversight. Lee didn’t hide his anger about that when speaking after that game. Did he think he’d be relieved of his command afterwards?

“I used to slag the county board after and say that it was easier to leave me in the job and suffer more than getting rid of me.

“While everyone goes back to that interview, I prefer to look at what they've done for us since. We started a number of different things, they backed us in the summer of 2018 to do weights programmes and there was money invested, same in 2019 and we weren't winning games.

“They were backing us even more after all I said and I think that says more about them than anything really. That’s what should be taken out of it really.” 

III 

Anticipating

Limerick are underdogs this Saturday. Lee can point out some bad breaks during previous visits to the big show.

“They were very unlucky in 2009 against Cork. I thought there was a harsh penalty given against them, and that was the key moment in that game. 2010 was a ding-dong battle.

“I suppose you can always say that Kerry have the natural firepower, their percentages of execution are that bit higher than ours. In Killarney (in 2003) we missed two penalties and lost by five points."

 The 2004 Munster final might have stalled Jack O’Connor’s coaching career. Instead he’s back on the sideline for Kerry this weekend.

“You’d need to ask Jack but I believe the dressing room at half-time (in 2004) wasn’t a nice place to be on that day for Kerry.

“Kerry, they’re proud people. To me, the way I judge them is that playing football allows them to represent their Irishness and how proud they are of being Irish people and their culture, their tourism, it’s their staple of what it is to be Irish.

“It’s really important to them and they go out and enjoy themselves, play it the way it should be played and it allows them to express themselves as Irish people.

“That’s the way I read it.” 

That’s the way he expresses it.

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