Hegarty says Limerick hurling team hasn't peaked yet
By John Harrington
Limerick have won two of the last three All-Ireland senior hurling titles, but Gearoid Hegarty doesn’t think they’ve peaked as a team yet.
When he considers the age-profile as well as the talent within the panel, he’s convinced they are still very much on an upward trajectory.
“I think so, without a doubt,” he says. "It’s nearly like a race, if you're just trying to maintain your position you'll be passed out. You've got to keep improving and stretching away.
“I do absolutely believe we have still a good bit of room for improvement. You look at our league performances so far this year, they've been a small bit inconsistent. We've had two losses and a couple of inconsistent performances here and there.
“So we do absolutely have massive room for improvement. I'm 27 this summer and I'm one of the older members. If you look back on the teams that were starting last year I'd be the fourth or fifth oldest. So we still have a lot of young lads on the panel.
“I'd still consider myself young. I always look to other sportsmen and Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, they're still always improving their numbers every year in terms of goals scored so on and so forth up until their late 30s. So without question we have room for improvement.”
Hegarty was Hurler of the Year in 2020 and admits he’s trying to ensure that mantle doesn’t weight heavily on him this year as he seeks to get back to his very best following a mild groin strain that curtailed his involvement during the Allianz League.
“That is something I would have had a conversation with Caroline [Currid] our sports psychologist in terms of just trying to replicate how I was feeling last year in terms of going into games,” he says.
“I was very laid back and I've spoken about how I wasn't worrying about too much things, like say you didn't get a good night's sleep the night before a game or whatever.
“Just getting back into that mental state where you're nice and relaxed going into a game. I feel like I'm still in that mindset so far. Obviously, championship hasn't started yet and time will tell as to how we go this year.
“But honestly, it's just focusing on what's important. It's about getting the most out of yourself in training on a Tuesday night and Friday night, making sure you're looking after the gym side of things, your nutrition and sleep.
“Once all those boxes are ticked just forgetting about it until an hour or two before the game, just having the craic with the lads and trying to enjoy it as much. That's what works for me, other things work for other players but that's what I feel works best for me is just relaxing into the game and going from there.
“I talked in the past that I'm a very reflective person. I'd obviously have reflected on last year on what worked for me and what didn't work for me. Obviously I'll try keep onto what worked for me and try improve on a small few aspects as well. A work in progress.”
John Kiely has made a point of giving lots of players game-time during the League to ensure no complacency sets in.
Reputation or experience counts for little, as evidenced by the fact that he’s thrown two very talented Leaving Cert students, Colin Coughlan and Cathal O’Neill, into the mix in recent weeks.
“They've added serious competition and that's what drives us in training," says Hegarty.
“As is obvious we put a lot of emphasis on our training in terms of whoever's going well in training starts. In fairness, they're 18 and are both actually doing the Leaving Cert at the moment.
“They're just a breath of fresh air to be honest. Their strength and conditioning is just outrageous for two young fellas that are sitting their Leaving Cert, they're so far ahead of where I was at 18 it's just off the charts in terms of the numbers they'd be hitting in the gym and fitness tests and things like that.
“They're exceptional young men and they're in a great position. I know they're doing their Leaving Cert at the moment but when they do join us, whenever that is, we're looking forward to having them back. That's what drives us as a team competition from within. Fellas putting their hands up in league and training games before championship, that's what drives us on and long may it last.
“There's plenty of other lads at 19, 20 and 21. Brian O'Grady has had a couple of starts in the league, Mark Quinlan started against Waterford so that's what you need, you need young lads driving you on all the time to make sure we are trying to get better all the time.”
Hegarty has no doubt the younger players in the Limerick panel are in the perfect environment to fulfil their potential with John Kiely overseeing a management team staffed by the best in class.
“I think John is a really intelligent man,” says Hegarty. “He's obviously the Principal of the Abbey school in Tipperary. He's smart enough that he has surrounded himself with an unbelievable team of coaches around him.
“They've all been well talked about and they are all brilliant in their own way, but I do think we are incredibly lucky as a group of players to have exposure to such a high level coaching team. We're not left wanting for anything in terms of anything, whether it's feedback in terms of the team performance, the individual performance and so on.
“It's not just Paul, he has a very good group of coaches with him as well. We are lucky to be involved in such a high performance, high profile set-up. It's funny, on another podcast I listened to, Rio Ferdinand was on about when he left United and went to QPR and how he was so shocked about how they trained day-to-day and stuff they were talking about in the dressing room and how they acted as professionals.
“He was so used to playing with United and their ways and how they went about things. And then he left and he thought he'd get the same exposure, but it wasn't anywhere near the professional set-up that United was. It just struck me how lucky we are to be involved in such a high performance set-up.”