It’s all quiet on the western front of Tipperary this week. The Easter break put paid to much of the pre-match banter for Abbey School principal John Kiely.
The Tipperary town secondary college serves east Limerick too but the mix leans predominantly towards those who will be shouting against his team this evening.
“The game has fallen on a good week but if it was on during school I’m sure we’d have good craic,” he smiles. “There was an element of it there before the Clare game that if we got over it there would be a game against Tipp. I think it’s a special rivalry that’s there, a long tradition and it’s a very healthy one, I must say.”
The rivalry isn’t the only thing in rude health: Limerick hurling’s stock is climbing. In spite of being without representatives from their senior county champions and a gaggle of players who also had serious Fitzgibbon Cup interests to consider, they produced enough to pip All-Ireland champions Galway to promotion from Division 1A.
What was the key to success?
“We didn’t panic, we just got on with what we had,” Kiely says. “That’s going to be the story for the remainder of the league and the championship: You’re going to lose players through injury or whatever it might be and there’s going to be a certain amount of attrition because of the games.
“You play with the hand you have and you get on with it. That was the approach we took from the outset of the year and every time we went out on the pitch we would put our best foot forward. It wasn’t always going to be perfect but you still have to find a way of doing it.
“The response of the players was the most important element of all of that. Their attitude was so good right throughout the year. Their work-rate has been fantastic and they’ve got a good appetite for what’s going on and they’re applying themselves really well.”
Early last year, Kiely spoke of how a small element of fans had been unfair with their commentary at games about players. Winning six matches does a lot to silence disquiet but the manager has nothing but praise for Limerick’s following.
“We’ve had some fantastic support this year to date, absolutely huge, and in fairness we had some great support last year as well but we probably didn’t give them much to shout about when it came to the bigger games.
“I think they’ve shown great patience and understanding of what we’re doing. They’re very appreciative of the players. People see the amount they’re putting in and right through the league the support has been growing and growing. I’m sure we’re going to have a really good following in Thurles and it’s great to see it back because it’s so important for Limerick hurling.
“It has always been known for its support and it’s back in spades now and long may it last.”
Against Galway, he suspects there was anxiety. For a young side, that would have been expected and understandable.
“In the first 20 minutes, we were possibly on the nervous side. Possibly — it’s hard to know at times. We were doing all the right things; we just weren’t converting our chances and Galway will punish you if you’re not taking your chances. You need to stay in touch with them as much as you can. We got into our stride then.”
Should it have come as a surprise that Limerick weren’t happy with their lot in progressing to the top flight?
Maybe not when two of the last three Division 1B winners have gone onto win the competition outright but then Waterford and Clare had not been down anywhere close to as long as Limerick.
What was evident in that epic against Clare was sweet relief, a county that had dropped the sandbags and was floating.
“There were patches of the Clare game, again at the start, where coming off the back of the Galway win it was going to take us a bit of time to get into the game. We were a bit slow out of the blocks and it took us a bit of time again to work our way into the game but we worked right the way through until the end.
“You come out of Galway and your eyes are trained towards the quarter-final straight away because it was the following weekend. Listen, we had to get on with it and that’s really the way it is. It’s probably a good dry run for the Championship with the scheduling of the games because they’ll be coming on you in quick succession then and I think they’ll stand to us come the summer time.”
From tomorrow, it’s seven weeks until Limerick lock horns again with Tipperary in their first round Munster SHC game in the Gaelic Grounds. This evening’s semi-final will be treated in isolation, says Kiely.
“We haven’t really looked to it even at this stage. You don’t get time because you’re so focused on what’s going on at the moment and the games are coming so thick and fast. You’re planning for each week, getting the work done during the week then looking at the game at the weekend.
“We’ll focus on the league for as long as we’re in it. We’ll get a chance to take stock, regroup and then plan for the Championship. Those games are there, they’ll come to us in due course but at the moment we’re really enjoying what we’re doing at the minute.
“We’ve a huge task against Tipp this weekend. They’ve cruised through the league at this stage, rotated their teams significantly and have a huge pool of talent and that has been evident in terms of what and how they’ve used them.
“We’re not under any illusions about the magnitude of the task but it’s a challenge we feel we’re ready for and we want to embrace on Saturday and have a real cut off them.”
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