Seoirse Bulfin spent a dozen years on the sideline with Davy Fitzgerald in Limerick Institute of Technology, so when Fitzgerald took Waterford over, he brought Bulfin along. Now Bulfin coaches Clare, another Fitzgerald-managed side.
Sunday they face his native county, though.
“I’m a Limerick man myself and have watched them and hurled against a lot of them, and they are very good hurlers. They’ll take a lot of minding.” So will his own charges, of course. Bulfin pays tribute to the Clare players: “They’re an exceptionally honest and hard-working bunch, they’re a skilful bunch but the best thing about dealing with them is they are always willing to learn. They soak up every bit of experience you have to give and they look for that, and look to work hard on their own outside of training.
“There is fierce unity there. They grew up hurling together, the majority of the panel, in colleges and schools.” They’ve needed that spirit: 2014 was a write-off for Clare, and this season saw them relegated to Division 1B.
“You could get bogged down in a lot of negatives,” says Bulfin. “You don’t go out to get relegated, it’s disappointing, but at the end of the day, summer is what it is all about and we just had to regroup and start working for championship.
“After the first couple of rounds, to go down to Kilkenny two weekends in a row... it’s a hard place to go and in fairness we put in two good performances. We still lost, we are still disappointed with that, but we got back to work and started working hard.
“Look at league form and Limerick the last two years — Munster champions two years ago and Munster finalists last year out of 1B. The gap is not as big as people perceive.” How important were the performances, given the furore off the field with Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell leaving the panel?
“I’m coaching the team, so I just coach, but the performances said, more than any statement, that the guys are a very united bunch.
“They get on very well together, most of them have grown up together hurling and there is a bond there. They work hard for each other and that was proven towards the latter end of the league.” Most of the Clare panel have senior All-Ireland medals from 2013, but that won’t count for much this weekend, Bulfin adds.
“I don’t think anything will really prepare you for May 24 because Limerick-Clare takes on a life of its own. What happened before or after won’t have a bearing on that 70-80 minutes of hurling.
“Grand, it’s done in the past, but realistically that was 2013 but we are starting from a lower ebb and lower base than a lot of the teams after our performances in the championship last year so 2013 is very much done and dusted in the back of the minds.”
Limerick’s consistency is a key factor for Bulfin: “Over the last number of years, they have been in three All-Ireland semi-finals, a final in 2007, two quarter-finals, so outside of Tipp and Kilkenny they have been as consistent as any team in the championship.
“We are coming in off the back of a bad championship, so on May 24, the 2013 and 2014 thing goes out the window.
“Up front, Limerick are very strong — look at the run Kilmallock have had and they have Graeme Mulcahy going very well, Paudie O’Brien and Gavin O’Mahony. They’re a seasoned championship team and are coming through with two very good minor teams, the likes of Cian Lynch are knocking on the door, and they are all very good hurlers.”
Bulfin was impressed with Waterford’s league final win, but points out that for all the talk of structures and plans, the players must adapt to what happens on game day.
“Obviously, you go out with a plan in place and you can play within that plan, but players have to play the game as they see it. You can have all the plans under the sun but they’re the guys on the field and have to play it as it arises.
“It’s good to have plans and roles but Munster championship is helter skelter.”
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