Lim­er­ick shut it all down so hype and his­tory rhyme

The county has got car­ried away in the past and is para­noid about do­ing it again

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - ALL-IRELAND HURLING FINAL SPECIAL - Malachy Clerkin

Sir,

I, along with most Lim­er­ick peo­ple, am ab­so­lutely de­lighted with Lim­er­ick’s vic­tory over Kilkenny in Thurles on Sun­day. It was an epic bat­tle where two teams went toe-to-toe, with Lim­er­ick the last team stand­ing, thank God.

I write to you to urge cau­tion in the com­ing weeks in your pa­per’s cov­er­age of the up­com­ing semi-fi­nal. I, along with many peo­ple through­out the county, re­li­giously buy your pa­per in ea­ger an­tic­i­pa­tion of what’s in the “Leader” this week. You may not ac­knowl­edge this but in the past your pa­per has had a ten­dency to get car­ried away when Lim­er­ick get to the lat­ter stages of the hurl­ing cham­pi­onship.

Your cov­er­age through­out the year is al­ways mea­sured and ex­cel­lent but for some rea­son you feel the need to “up the ante” when our county gets within touch­ing dis­tance of the Holy Grail. In­par­tic­u­lar I re­mem­ber, in my opin­ion, the com­pletely over the top cov­er­age in 2013 of Lim­er­ick’s All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal v Clare. It may or may not have con­trib­uted to our ul­ti­mate de­feat but such over the top ex­u­ber­ant cov­er­age is un­help­ful.

I do not ex­pect your pa­per to print such a crit­i­cal let­ter but I do feel many peo­ple through­out the county have sim­i­lar feel­ings. Yours, etc, Noel O’Dea, Kil­teely, Co Lim­er­ick Let­ter to the ed­i­tor of The Lim­er­ick Leader, July 19th 2018

Noel O’Dea was not wrong. Not that he was en­tirely right, ei­ther. His let­ter to Lim­er­ick’s main lo­cal pa­per back in July did, as it hap­pened, make it into print, as mis­sives car­ry­ing the re­join­der, “I do not ex­pect your pa­per to print such a crit­i­cal let­ter” gen­er­ally tend to. But where he was com­pletely on the money, his fin­ger vi­brat­ing snug on the pulse of the Lim­er­ick hurl­ing com­mu­nity, was in his con­tention that he was far from alone in his thoughts.

You only had to lis­ten to the Lim­er­ick crowd in Croke Park three weeks ago as Shane Dowling’s post-match in­ter­view was car­ried over the tan­noy. Dowling’s heart­felt ex­hor­ta­tion for Lim­er­ick peo­ple to leave the team alone in the build-up to the fi­nal was met with know­ing and en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause from the stands, the scars from hype trains past itch­ing them even now, mere min­utes af­ter qual­i­fy­ing for their sixth fi­nal in 45 years.

This is, un­de­ni­ably, a thing. It may not make a lot of sense look­ing in from the out­side but how­ever the county as a whole has ar­rived at this point, the push for Lim­er­ick peo­ple not to go mad over their ap­pear­ance in to­mor­row’s fi­nal is real. It is the para­noia that dare not speak its name, too – four dif­fer­ent peo­ple in­volved to var­i­ous ex­tents with Lim­er­ick hurl­ing down the years de­clined to talk to talk on the sub­ject for this piece. They gen­uinely didn’t want to add to the hype.

David Breen knows all about it. Wing-for­ward on the Lim­er­ick teams that went to All-Ire­land semi-fi­nals in 2013 and 2014, his work as a physio has taken him to Lon­don in re­cent years. But when he was here, he was liv­ing in Ca­her­davin, round the road from the Gaelic Grounds, in the thick of it whether he liked it or not. He looks back now, at the 2013 game against Clare es­pe­cially, and in­stinc­tively agrees with the idea that the ma­nia in the build-up af­fected the re­sult.

“I do, yeah,” he says. “I think it would be naïve to say it didn’t have an ef­fect. For me, that day, we were tac­ti­cally out­gunned and that was spear­headed, iron­i­cally, by Paul Kin­nerk and the rest of the Clare man­age­ment team. It was a weird one for me be­cause I was liv­ing with Paul at the time.

“We were the only out­let for each other – the one way we could avoid talk­ing about hurl­ing was to sit down to­gether and talk about some­thing else al­to­gether. That was my es­cape from the hype – sit­ting down with the coach of the other team and watch­ing a bit of TV in the evening!

“It’s tough. It’s very dif­fi­cult as a player. You’re re­ly­ing on good lead­er­ship from your man­age­ment to al­most men­tor you through that pe­riod lead­ing into the game. But you’re also re­ly­ing on hav­ing a ma­ture bunch of play­ers and be­ing a ma­ture in­di­vid­ual your­self. You need to be sur­rounded by good peo­ple, your fam­ily have to be aware of it, your friends have to in­su­late you from it all.

“I can only speak for my­self but I found it dif­fi­cult to get a break from all the talk about the next game and how Lim­er­ick hurl­ing had trans­formed overnight. That’s an ex­am­ple of hype. You’re af­ter winning your first Mun­ster cham­pi­onship in 17 years and all of a sud­den you’re tipped nearly to win the All-Ire­land.”

Press night

John Kiely was part of the man­age­ment team in 2013, of course. His de­ci­sion to lock and load be­fore a ques­tion was even asked in the post-game press con­fer­ence three weeks ago was clearly in­formed by that ex­pe­ri­ence. Threat­en­ing to “shut the whole thing down” if any re­porters con­tacted a Lim­er­ick player out­side of the press night sounded fairly ex­treme in the mo­ment but it soon be­came ob­vi­ous that his au­di­ence wasn’t in the room. Or not all of it, any­way.

Alan English was the ed­i­tor of the Lim­er­ick Leader in 2013. He calls from his car, head­ing home af­ter putting the last Leader be­fore the fi­nal to bed. He’s not the ed­i­tor any more, hav­ing moved up­stairs to a broader role, but he’s still in and around the place, es­pe­cially in a week like this. An All-Ire­land fi­nal is the big­gest week of a lo­cal pa­per’s year. In the ma­jor­ity of coun­ties, you’re lucky to get one or two weeks like it in a decade. You’d be mad if you didn’t want in on it.

“As a news­pa­per man, it’s my strong con­vic­tion that it’s the job and re­spon­si­bil­ity of a lo­cal news­pa­per to re­flect the mood of the county,” English says. “I’m in my car here as I’m talk­ing to you and I look out the win­dow and I see green and white flags left, right and cen­tre. The mood of the county is mas­sively be­hind the team.

“Peo­ple have taken on board the John Kiely thing, they have given the team space, there’s no mem­ber of the me­dia who would even dream of ap­proach­ing a Lim­er­ick player out­side a press night. The me­dia has re­spected that and un­der­stood where it’s com­ing from.

“But at the same time, we’re in the week of an All-Ire­land fi­nal and the idea that the Lim­er­ick Leader or any other Lim­er­ick me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion should sort of de­lib­er­ately roll back its en­thu­si­asm is a bit of a non­sense.”

That said, the no­tion that the lo­cal pa­per cost Lim­er­ick against Clare five years ago is one that def­i­nitely gained a bit of trac­tion in the af­ter­math of yet another fruit­less trip to Croke Park. Ahead of the game, English had Tweeted a pic­ture con­trast­ing the sea-of-green front page of his pa­per and that of the Clare Cham­pion, tap­ping into the sense of oc­ca­sion that was ob­vi­ous around Lim­er­ick at the time. Af­ter­wards, it was held against him in some quar­ters – as Noel O’Dea’s let­ter five years later would show – a sym­bol of every­thing that was wrong with Lim­er­ick’s prepa­ra­tion.

“That sea­son, Lim­er­ick had won the Mun­ster ti­tle in great style against Cork,” says English. “And there’s no doubt that amongst other me­dia out­lets the Leader def­i­nitely got be­hind the team in a pretty spec­tac­u­lar way and in an in­cred­i­bly pos­i­tive way. And I have no re­grets about do­ing that.

“You’re al­most made to feel that the Clare Cham­pion did their team a ser­vice by putting noth­ing on the front page about the match and that we ru­ined our team’s chances! I think it’s un­fair on pre­vi­ous teams to sug­gest that their down­fall was hype. And the idea that this team, hav­ing come so far, would be un­done by ex­ces­sive en­thu­si­asm in and around the county is to­tal non­sense.”

For Breen, every­thing fed into every­thing that year. Lim­er­ick were dras­ti­cally un­der­cooked in that semi-fi­nal – and with good rea­son. They had played two games in 19 weeks since the end of the league go­ing into it whereas Clare were play­ing their sixth game of the sum­mer. But that’s the sort of open man­hole peo­ple only see

Long­wait

“What I re­mem­ber most of all is just the wait. It was such a long wait since the Mun­ster fi­nal – I think it was five weeks. And at that point, we had only played two games in the cham­pi­onship al­to­gether. You might not want to be play­ing ev­ery week but ev­ery fort­night or three weeks would have been ideal. It was just a very long wait and it’s a dif­fi­cult one to man­age.

“And in the back­ground, every­thing was grow­ing, grow­ing all the time. You were cel­e­brat­ing the Mun­ster ti­tle like it was a mini-All-Ire­land in some ways. And in the same breath, you were try­ing to keep your­self level-headed and down to earth and pre­pare for a big job in the semi-fi­nal.

“I to­tally un­der­stand it. Lim­er­ick peo­ple are in­tensely pas­sion­ate about sport and very proud about any sport­ing story that comes out of Lim­er­ick and reaches na­tional or in­ter­na­tional head­lines. And the dom­i­nant sports in Lim­er­ick are rugby and hurl­ing so when some­thing like that hap­pens, it’s hard for Lim­er­ick peo­ple to put a lid on it. It’s not in their na­ture not to get ex­cited.

“That’s prob­a­bly pred­i­cated on the fact that in Lim­er­ick hurl­ing terms, we haven’t de­liv­ered much sil­ver­ware com­pared to what maybe we should have. I think if we’re con­sis­tently reach­ing Mun­ster fi­nals and con­sis­tently reach­ing All-Ire­land semi-fi­nals and fi­nals, that hype will settle a lit­tle bit. But when it’s a real nov­elty fac­tor, it think it’s only nat­u­ral.”

That’s the broader point, of course. Lim­er­ick is ablaze be­cause this is a spark that comes along so rarely. The ache for an All-Ire­land is deep in the bones of the peo­ple at this stage. English was there as a boy in 1974 when Lim­er­ick made it back to the fi­nal as de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons. His fa­ther bought a ticket out­side the Gre­sham Ho­tel on the day and fer­ried the pair of them in on it.

He’s lived and died with all the days since and, through all that time, this is the team that has given him the most hope. The sum­mer has been glo­ri­ous, what­ever hap­pens to­mor­row. Kiely’s young side has brought its peo­ple with it, stand­ing ready to do what­ever is nec­es­sary. If that means get­ting out of their way, so be it. But at the same time, a lo­cal news­pa­per man gotta do what a lo­cal news­pa­per man gotta do.

“I think what it’s really all about is this al­most suf­fo­cat­ing de­sire that is within the county to win this,” he says. “I un­der­stand where it’s com­ing from and I think peo­ple have re­spected it. I can un­der­stand why the ap­plause rang out [to Dowling’s en­treaty].

“But at the same time, it’s still an All-Ire­land fi­nal we’re at now. What­ever about a semi-fi­nal – the at­mos­phere around the semi-fi­nal was markedly re­strained com­pared to 2013. But this is an All-Ire­land fi­nal.

“We’ve done 48 pages in the Leader on it. I mean, the Mayo pa­pers have gone even big­ger than that in the past, they’ve done 72. So 48 pages – that’s our con­tri­bu­tion to row­ing back the hype!”

The idea that this team would be un­done by ex­ces­sive en­thu­si­asm in and around the county is non­sense

Lim­er­ick­man­agerJohn Kiely talks to his squad af­ter the­semi-fi­nal­winoverCork. Above: Lim­er­ick Leader hurling­fi­nal­sup­ple­ment

on CCTV af­ter you’ve fallen down through it.In the week run­ning up to the game, Kilkenny were gone, Tipp were gone, Le­in­ster cham­pi­ons Dublin were gone. Cork were in the fi­nal and Lim­er­ick had al­ready wal­loped them in Mun­ster. Only Clare stood in their way and Lim­er­ick had beaten them in a qual­i­fier the pre­vi­ous year. All the while, the drums beat louder and louder the closer the week­end came.

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