John Kiely - Limerick's proud leader
By Cian O'Connell
Ultimately John Kiely was content that the Liam MacCarthy Cup was Limerick's companion at Sunday night's banquet at the City West Hotel.
Speaking to the assembled press on Monday morning Kiely cut a satisfied figure reflecting on a splendid campaign culminating in Limerick's first All Ireland title since 1973.
"We’ve been through the crappy banquets," Kiely admitted. "Where you have nothing to bring back to the banquet and everybody is very disappointed and it’s a hard occasion.
"It’s a very hard occasion. So it was fantastic to have the real deal last night and have that special occasions where you come into that room with what everybody had come to see.
"That’s why people come to banquets. At the end of the day, there was four tables from my own parish in Galbally. That’s a lot, like.
"That’s 40 people who wanted to be there with us and share that occasion. And of course your family are all there. They know what’s been put into it.
"They’ve heard the door opening at one or two o’clock in the morning when you were heading out into the back yard to look up at the stars and figure out the solution to some problem that you were worried about.
"So yeah, it was great to have our family and our club mates there. Even just for us as a group to sit down together last night and dance if off, if you like."
Kiely is adamant, though, that this is merely the start, not the end of Limerick's journey. "It’s a new beginning," Kiely states. "I’m just so thrilled for all the young kids that are at home this morning in Limerick.
"Because that’s the real dividend from this – that spin-off for the thousands of youngsters that are going to go around with hurleys this week, next week and the week after, dreaming of being Cian Lynchs and Shane Dowlings and Peter Caseys.
"And not thinking they should be Seamie Callanan or Patrick Horgan or Henry Shefflin, even though they’re great players. They have their own standards and their own heroes. And that’s the real dividend. Because those guys will come through in time. I see this as a new beginning."
While the present and future matter deeply Kiely also praised heroes from Limerick's past, who respected what the green and white team were trying to achieve.
"Those lads were probably very anxious to pass on the mantle," Kiely remarked.
"They were ready to do it in the 80s, they were ready to do it in the 90s, it just didn't happen. They've been great, they've been great. Even last night in the banquet, they were so understated, they were so behind the scenes.
"Eamonn Grimes spent 10 seconds with me because he didn't want, he was just so happy to have it passed onto Declan. They were great, they were incredible. They're incredible men.
"We would have spoken about it from time to time and the fact that they were just human like us and they managed to do it so why not? That was it."
Kiely highlighted the different qualities and strengths of Limerick's backroom. "We’ve a really strong group of people around us," Kiely acknowledged.
"Paul Kinnerk was key in terms of the hurling coaching side of it, Joe O’Connor in terms of the strength and conditioning. He had only done one year before I came in. He’s got three years done and you can see that in the players. He’s top-class, world-class I would say Joe is, exceptional.
"Brian Geary, Jimmy Quilty, Alan Cunningham all bring their own individual kind of traits to it. Brian brings the experience of 2007 and being a player who was highly regarded, Jimmy Quilty has been on the circuit of clubs and was there in ‘15 with the Under 21s and was incredible there. Alan Cunningham obviously with Na Piarsaigh and Clare brought great experience. A great cohort of people there straightaway.
"That was the core group then there was Caroline Currid who came in and gave us that bit of guidance where we needed it because she had been through all this before. "She knew the map, if you like, so we listened to her guidance. The backroom team as a whole, the standards rose.
"It’s all about the standards. That’s why we did the boxing because the previous year the standards were allowed to let slip because fellas weren’t challenging enough whereas this year the standards were set because of the boxing.
"There was no drop. I don’t think there was a single session I went home unhappy about."
To illustrate his point Kiely stressed the importance Limerick placed on reducing unnecessary communication. "I was always happy coming home from training and we tidied up things and took out a few bits that were a burden on fellas," Kiely revealed.
"We simplified things, took out a lot of the rubbish that was in there. We simplified things, kept communication to a minimum instead of bombarding these lads with communication. They’re only 20, 21, 22.
"Kyle Hayes doesn’t want 20 texts a day, he just wants to know where he is to be on a Tuesday and a Friday - ‘that’s it, boss, leave me alone’. So we left him alone. I didn’t speak to the players this week on my own. We left them alone. Players need to be left alone. If I ring them, they could spend four or five hours and they’re thinking about what the conversation was about.
"So that’s a whole load of bloody energy wasted. It doesn’t need to be done. At the end of the day, you need to trust them to go out on the field and do the job and play his part on the field, which he does."
Having secured the ultimate honour in the game Kiely still feels that Limerick's talented collection of hurlers will remain firmly focused. "Yeah, listen, they’ve coped with everything so far," Kiely commented.
"I suppose obviously we’re going to have to keep an eye out and look out for fellas. The most important thing is that they look out for each other and we spoke about it coming back on the bus yesterday, humility is one of the great attributes that all the great teams have had. If you look at the Kilkenny teams for the last 15 years, the humility that those fellas have shown is an example to all players I think.
"They’ve carried success very well on their shoulders and the challenge to these boys is to be able to carry their success on their shoulders and I think what we said yesterday was, the fellas we were a year ago, we’d like to be the same fellas in a year’s time.
"If we can be the same people we were a year ago in a year’s time, I think we’ll have done a very good job." Whatever happens 2018 will linger long in the memory.