Honours and accolades flooding Limerick hurlers’ way

Last Thursday evening was memorable for the all conquering Limerick senior hurling team. Firstly, now three times All-Ireland winning manager John Kiely was named Manager of the Year after seeing off the challenge of such luminaries as Brian Dowling who in his first year in charge led Kilkenny to All-Ireland senior camogie success, Dessie Farrell who also in his first year in charge led Dublin to a record sixth All-Ireland senior football title in a row, Joseph O’Brien who trained Twilight Payment to success in the Lexus Melbourne Cup, Mick Bohan who guided Dublin to a fourth All-Ireland senior LGFA title in a row and Stephen Bradley who steered Shamrock Rovers to a first League of Ireland title since 2011, going through the campaign unbeaten.
For John Kiely it was his third time as a manager leading a Limerick team to All-Ireland glory. In 2015 he led Limerick to All-Ireland Under 21 success and three years later to All-Ireland senior success after a lapse of 45 years.
2020 is especially memorable for the Galbally native and for Limerick as they went through the entire season unbeaten winning four major trophies, the Munster Senior League, the Allianz Hurling League, the Munster and All-Ireland Championships.
The awards event was held virtually and on receiving his award, John Kiely was quick to tell RTE presenter Joanne Cantwell “It is a great honour and privilege to accept the award on behalf of my wonderful management and back-room team members who have worked so hard with the team over the last four years. It is really an acknowledgement of the entire group that surrounds these players and has helped them through the last four years to achieve the success they have had.”
The Limerick boss oversaw a perfect thirteen wins from thirteen but insisted they took it one game at a time and there was no master plan telling Ms Cantwell, “We do literally take it week to week, there was no grand plan to achieve a winning run like that right across the season. Normally you are going to come a cropper at some stage but these guys have shown an extraordinary level of hunger and desire to be successful.
“Even the thoughts of losing any game is something that does not sit well with them at all so long may that last. They have a great attitude, they work really, really hard but as we know 2021 is just started and we are facing into another season with fantastic battles and fantastic challenges ahead.
During the year John Kiely and his management team were confronted with a couple of long term injury problems and during the year, they made a couple of big calls in reshuffling their forces. “We were posed with certain challenges during the course of the year due to guys getting injured in particular the full back line. Those challenges came our way, we had to problem solve as we went and identify the players we felt were best placed to step into that particular role. Hats off to the guys, they really drove on and incrementally improved their performances throughout the year and that is what is takes to get that bit of success, they produced their best when it mattered most in the end.
Looking forward to 2021, the Limerick boss told RTE he believes everything should be right with the pandemic before a return to action gets the green light. “We are after having a really difficult six weeks as a nation. I am not in any major hurry to find out where we are going, I rather they took their time and got it right and that we do have a path forward and it is a definitive one and is not one that we will have to change or be reset again at some stage in the future.
“I think everybody in the G.A.A. world know that they got a really good deal out of 2020, we got to play our club championships and our intercounty championships. We are only four weeks into the 2021 calendar year yet. We got all that done from July to Christmas last year, we still have elven months left in 2021. Let us take our time, let us get it right and make sure we do what is right for the welfare of the players and everybody that is working around them and what is socially accepted and needed.
“At the moment it is that we stay at home and take our ease, rest up, it is good for the players, they will enjoy the break. They do not often get six, eight, ten weeks where they can say there is no club or intercounty on so give them a chance at their studies, give them a chance to get through those aspects. Give us all a chance in the country to come out at the other side of the battle we are involved in at the moment,” he urged.
Senior Hurlers
The Limerick senior hurling team scooped the RTE Team of the Year award after becoming the first team to go through a full season unbeaten since 1961.
Limerick played 13 games as they claimed the Munster Senior League, the National League the Munster and All-Ireland Championships. Tipperary in 1961 were the last team to achieve the same when they claimed the National League, the Munster and All-Ireland Championships and the then prestigious Oireáchtas Tournament.
To claim the Team of the Year accolade, Limerick had to fend off the claims of Dublin senior footballers who completed six in a row, Dublin ladies footballers who completed four in a row, Kilkenny camogie who after losing five of the six previous All-Ireland finals eventually got their hands on the O’Duffy Cup. Also in the running were Leinster Rugby who completed three in a row Pro 14 titles and who won all 17 of their games in the competition. Making up the six strong shortlist were Shamrock Rovers who became the first side since 1927 to claim the League of Ireland title with an unbeaten campaign.
The 13 match winning run saw Limerick defeat Tipperary and Waterford each three times, Clare Cork and Galway each twice and Westmeath once.
The pandemic ensured it was a year like no other with a huge hiatus in the action from 7th March to the 25th October and with it the huge question could John Kiely’s men recapture their early season form when action returned in late October. The answer of course was an emphatic yes and for the most part not only recapture that sparkling form but exceeded it.
The closest any county came to laying a glove on Declan Hannon and his men were Tipperary and Cork in the League who both ran all conquering Shannonsiders to two points and Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final who went down to the Treaty surge by three points.
Thrown in was the unusual situation of the League final doubling up with the Munster Championship quarter final game with Clare.
John Kiely and his management team were faced with some stern challenges during the year none more so than the injuries to stalwarts Richie English and Mike Casey. The Limerick boss had to rebuild his regular full back line with extra responsibility falling on the shoulders of the third members of the regular last line of defence Seán Finn.
Dan Morrissey and Barry Nash were handed the herculean task of filling the boots of English and Casey and the manner in which they deputised is best reflected in both being nominated for All Star awards.
Another major reshuffle of the front line pack saw Kyle Hayes posted at left half back where the 2018 Young Hurler of the Year was a revelation. It saw the Hurler of the Year in 2018 Cian Lynch moved into a more forward role at number 11 where he again excelled.
The forward line was very prolific throughout particularly in the points scoring division where in the 13 games they amassed a whopping 369 points averaging out at 28 per game. In three of the four finals, Limerick scored 30 points of more.
John Kiely used the Munster Senior League to introduce new faces to intercounty hurling, players like Mark Quinlan (Garryspillane). Brian Ryan (South Liberties), Brian O’Grady (Kilteely-Dromkeen), Josh Considine (Patrickswell and Jerome Boylan (Na Piarsaigh). There was more game time for the likes of Robbie Hanley, Ronan Connolly and Darren O’Connell all of whom will be hoping to add to John Kiely’s selection headaches in 2021.
Limerick captain Declan Hannon was very happy to accept a further accolade on behalf of his team telling RTE’s Darragh Moloney at the virtual presentation “It was so strange but it is only now when we look back we were so privileged to have been given that opportunity to train and meet our team mates and go and play the games. It is only really now that you miss it in the lockdown when it is really tough for everyone so we were delighted to be given the opportunity, I think we made the most of it and we are over the moon to be the recipients of the Team of the Year.
Hannon and his team mates now realise the importance of the games were to hurling supporters. “During the championship we probably weren’t but since the 13th December and talking to friends and family members, it meant the world to them. They were just so delighted to be able to sit down on a Saturday or a Sunday and watch a bit of live sport. For us to be part of that and give people joy, we were really proud to be able to do so,” he told Moloney.
During the lockdowns, the Limerick captain and his team mates have been involved in different things in the various communities “We got involved in bits and pieces, in my own club Adare, we tried to do small Zoom sessions with the underage teams and it is great for them to see lads training away at home and that it can be done.
“We also did a ‘Hit the Woah for Milford Hospice which was great fun. Some may have seen us dancing on the television screens during the summer, some people were better than others but we were delighted to raise funds for the Hospice. It has been a tough time for a lot of organisations. Their big days or nights out have been interrupted by the coronavirus.”
Hannon was at pains to tell Darragh Moloney he was not the best dancer in the fundraising event. “I am a more leaning against the bar type of person, I think William O’Donoghue and Tom Morrisey might have something to say about that, it was a bit of craic.
When pressed on how Limerick had raised the bar in terms of physicality and fitness. Hannon revealed “It is really down to hard work by everybody involved, we are a tight group and everybody wants to work hard for each other and nobody wants to leave anybody down. It is a lot of years of hard work that is culminating at the minute and thankfully we have been successful for the last number of years. There is a lot of effort that goes into that, it just does not happen on the day, we are delighted, it is very hard work but very enjoyable and were rewarding as well.”