Tom Condon: 'There was something different about them'
By Cian O’Connell
When John Kiely and an emerging generation of Limerick hurlers arrived on the inter-county scene in 2017, Tom Condon just sensed something was stirring.
Hope was in the air. There was a bit of expectation too which Condon was delighted to embrace also because possibilities existed.
“Around 2017 when John took over, he brought on a bunch of these young lads, as we called them at the time, going from training and being there, you knew that there was something different about them and that there was something special brewing,” Condon recalls.
“I said it to one or two friends at the time, mark my words, that Limerick will win an All-Ireland within the next couple of years. I didn't expect it to be 2018, I thought maybe it might take a couple of more years for them to settle into the senior intensity.
“Winning in 2018 got the monkey off the back, it threw the shackles off, the way these lads are able to express their hurling.
"I know in 2019 we were brought back down to earth to Kilkenny, but these lads just dusted themselves off and went about their business again - sticking to the same plan and process. It has been phenomenal.
“They are a special group of players, once in a lifetime you get a group like that to come along at the same time. You have to make the most of it, but enjoy it too, live in the moment.”
That Limerick have remained relevant is a testament to the players talent and the management’s craft too.
“He brought through such a bunch of lads, normally you might get one or two maybe breaking on to a panel year by year,” Condon says.
“When John brought them in he brought in a group of lads that he had worked with through the underage ranks. These lads came up through the Academy, they were used to winning.”
For Condon that aspect is critical. Standards were being set and maintained. “They had a winning mentality, a lot of us older lads were there through hard times,” Condon adds.
“We had doubts in our heads, but these lads all they wanted to do was win and enjoy their hurling while they do that. They hurl with a smile on their face and they train with a smile on their face - they just love it.
“They just want to win what they can while they can because it doesn't last forever in sport. The fact that this group of players were so young when they were introduced into the senior set-up.
“They were very young in 2018. Most of them are still only in their mid 20s, that has helped too. Before you wouldn't have a group of players that young like that together playing at such a high standard.”
Good habits were acquired in Limerick’s Academy system. The coaching was sharp, the preparation key, and there was ambition also.
Players were beginning to flourish at underage level, while the increasing prominence of Limerick outfits in the Harty and Fitzgibbon Cups mattered too.
“The Academy was set up after 2009 or 2010 when there was the dispute, they said we need to invest here for the future of Limerick hurling,” Condon says.
“Most of these lads started off there, they have come through. I think it has been a vital part of the success for Limerick hurling. Just the coaching they received - Anthony Daly was involved, he had a massive part to play. They got the right coaching, the right strength and conditioning.
“Most of that stuff wasn't there when we were playing underage. We were only introduced to strength and conditioning properly in 2011 when Donal Óg Grady and Jerry Wallace came onboard.
“These lads were exposed to it a lot younger - how to lift weights properly, the right body mechanics, and the right technique.
“You can see that these lads are beasts of men - they are strong and ripped, strong physical fellas. That has been years and years of proper S&C, their skill level is just phenomenal.”
Ultimately a meaningful connection has been forged. Condon now relishes going to watch Limerick play. With three young children he knows the value of inspiring children.
“I was asked a question about the '96 Munster Championship game between Limerick and Clare, as a young lad you watch this, you see the crowds, you see the game of hurling,” Condon wistfully recalls his youth.
“You are there - 'that is what I want to do'. Now these young lads are seeing Limerick winning big games with massive crowds, they are winning Munster Finals and All-Irelands.
They see the success and just want to be a part of it, so it is inspiring to them. They are basically their heroes, you see crowds of young fellas looking for signatures and pictures.”
As a young lad Condon watched and wondered. Then his own career was launched. A couple of All-Ireland medals were pocketed at the end of his senior inter-county career.
Now he is back in the stands monitoring the evolution of a glorious spell for Limerick, who are busy preparing for another Munster SHC decider against Clare.