Aaron Gillane pays tribute to those who helped him along the way
By John Harrington
GAA.ie sat down with 2023 GAA/GPA PwC Hurler of the Year, Aaron Gillane, to ask him how much the award meant to him and reminisce on Limerick's All-Ireland Winning year.
Q: Aaron, how does it feel to be PwC GAA/GPA Hurler of the Year?
Aaron Gillane: It's nice, a very nice way to finish off the year. Obviously the most important thing is that we got the All-Ireland medal and that's one we can all remember as a group and as a team. But it's nice too to be able to finish off the year with an individual award like this. It's great, but not one bit of it would be possible without the team. I'm very grateful to be part of such a special group that we have at the minute.
Q: You come from a very passionate GAA family, I'm sure this is special for them too?
AG: I can 100 per cent say that I wouldn't be in the position I am today if it wasn't for the support of my family, especially my mother and father, and my girlfriend Roisin as well. To be fair to them, they've supported me through the good and bad times and encouraged me to keep going over the last number of years. That's great appreciated. Time and time again they've gone above and beyond for me. There's so many things that they do behind the scenes that just ensures I can go out and enjoy my hurling. That's massively appreciated by me. Here today, being able to collect an award like this, it's as much for them as it is for me.
Q: Your journey is an interesting one is so far as you weren't as big a star as many of your Limerick team-mates when you were in your late teens. You're maybe a good example of the power of perseverance for younger players?
AG: I suppose all I'd say to younger players is to just stay going. Just stay training and keep working hard. A massive, massive thing for me, maybe even it was a turning point, was the impact that my club Patrickswell had on me. I was talking about the support from my parents and Roisin there, but I owe so much too to Patrickswell.
I was 16/17 and not really making panels and to get the shout from Natal O'Grady who was the coach at the time to come up and train with the seniors was a big moment for me. It was a huge honour to train with your club senior team and against fully grown men so they wouldn't be long toughening you up a bit. To get exposure to that physicality, it really brought me on leaps and bounds.
Even from a young age with the club, all the coaches we've had up along, and there's too many of them to name, they've all had such a huge effect not just on me, but the likes of Cian (Lynch) and Diarmaid (Byrnes) who would say the exact same thing. I am very grateful to my club because they've given us the platform to go and get exposure and go on to bigger and better things with Limerick. It's great to be able to bring awards like this to Patrickswell, they all deserve it.
Q: One of your stand-out abilities is to win aerial ball. Was there any coach in particular who honed that skill or has it always come naturally?
AG: It definitely didn't come to me naturally, no. A lot of it, to be honest, is down to hard-work and practice. I think by the time I was 19 it was Ciarán Carey's first year over us in 2015 with the seniors and I was a skinny little 19-year-old but Ciarán played me at half-forward. And, obviously, at half-forward you have to be some bit of a target for puck-outs. I hadn't a clue what I was doing there for a while until Ciarán pulled me aside one evening and showed me one or two things and talked me through another couple of things. What he gave me was a bit of confidence and that's all I needed. After that you just keep working on it and honing those skills as the years go on. Look, it's working now, but I'll have to go back to the drawing board again in January and try to improve on it again.
Q: You mentioned Diarmaid Byrnes and Cian Lynch, it's incredible that one club has produced the last three Hurlers of the Year. I'd imagine you're good friends with the lads and you all drive one another on?
AG: Yeah, of course. That's why we are such good friends, because we support and encourage each other in everything we do. We're best friends on the field and off the field. It is nice for the three of us to be able to bring these awards back to Patrickswell and it's probably going to be special for the people in Patrickswell and, as I said, they all deserve it.
Q: In terms of other influences on your career, I'd imagine being coached by Jamie Wall in Mary Immaculate College was a big one?
AG: Jamie Wall was very good, to be fair, and I had a very good relationship with him. That was my first time ever captaining a team when I was in fourth year in Mary I. Again, to be able to get that exposure and that trust that Jamie put in me to go and lead a team out, I got great confidence from that. Obviously you pick up small things from every coach you have, but the confidence that Jamie instilled in me was huge. He made me believe in myself more than anyone else so, again, I'm very thankful to him and grateful that I crossed paths with him.
Q: Are there any moments with Limerick this year that stick out in your head? One of the goals you scored maybe?
AG: One of the moments that really sticks out for me, and it's nothing about myself, was when we played Tipperary in the Munster championship. In the first couple of matches in Munster we were really under the cosh and people were writing us off a bit. When we played Tipp below in Thurles they were well on top. They were flying it after winning their first game against Clare below in Ennis and they drew with Cork below in Cork which was no mean feat in itself. The ywere really on top of us below in Thurles until the start of the second-half.
One thing I really remember in terms of changing the momentum is that Cathal O'Neill threw over three or four points in a row, and there was one from the sideline near the corner that was unbelievable. When that went over I felt it was a turning point and that we could really kick on from there. That's one of the main things that stands out for me from the year.
Q: As a team you had a few gut-checks along the way this year. Other teams put it up to you, especially in that Munster championship, but you still found a way to win another All-Ireland.
AG: It was put up to us, yeah, but you'd expect nothing less from any of the other teams. They're breaking their backsides seven or eight months a year as well so of course theyr'e going to be putting it up to us, they're not just going to roll over. I suppose it's testament to the character that we have in the team and the way we stick to what we do best which is working as hard as we can. The one thing I always say is the harder you work the more luck you get, and thankfully that kicked for us at times and we needed it to.
Q: Is each All-Ireland title as special as the one that went before despite how much you've won as a team?
AG: They all mean a massive amount to absolutely everyone. One thing I can guarantee you is that you do not get sick of winning anything. I suppose a good thing with winning is that it breeds its own motivation. You obviously want to train as hard as you can and work as hard as you can when you know you've a chance to win something again. That's our motto and that's what we stick to.
Q: One person from the group who won't be there next year is Caroline Currid. How important was she to your development as a player and the team as a whole?
AG: Ah, sure, brilliant. You can ask the 36 or 37 lads who are on the panel or anyone who has crossed paths with her over the last few years, and they'll all tell you that Caroline was A1. Very good with everyone. I suppose she probably knew us more than we knew ourselves. She knew exactly what we needed at the right time. Caroline will be a loss, but, to be fair to her, we should be just thankful to her because she's given so much to Limerick hurling over the last few years and we're entirely grateful to her. So fair play to her and best of luck to her for whatever she does in the future.
Q: You're asked this question every year, but how confident are you that the group will be just as hungry for success in 2024 as you go for a fifth All-Ireland title in a row.
AG: Of course I'm confident. I think it would be a waste of time going back if you weren't as hungry next year as we've been previously. The last couple of years we've been in a privileged position to be the title-holders going into a new year. We've kind of gotten used to it since maybe 2018 when the question was would we be able to back it up and win another one. Then it became can they back it up and win two in a row, three in a row, four in a row. We know that narrative is out there and we're not going to shy away from it.
One thing definitely is that it's not going to hinder our training, we're still going to go out and work as hard as we possibly can and try to get ourselves in the best possible condition to go out and represent Limerick next year. We just want to be the best team that we all can be for each other.
Q: I know as a team that you look to the future all the time, but how aware are you in the present that you're part of something really special with this group that you'll treasure for the rest of your days?
AG: What we think is special is that we get to spend so much time with people we genuinely are best friends with. We get to spend five or six nights with each other. And that's what's special to us because the friendships there are so deep and they are so meaningful. That's the most special thing for us, they're the things you'll remmber in 30 or 40 years. You'll remember the laugh you had with the lads and what happened on this night out or that night out or this team holiday. They're the good memories that you'll always have.
In terms of medals and all of that, they're obviously important too, but they're not the be all and end all for this group anyway.