Mind Games

The unseen hand helping Limerick overcome past failures and write their own history

Caroline Currid has been a key part of the Limerick backroom team this season.

IN HIS PIECE on the Sports Chronicle last week, Shane Dowling admitted that his “mood is dictated by hurling.”

Shane Dowling celebrates Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

It’s probably safe to say that Dowling is still on a high after he played a major role in Limerick’s thrilling extra-time win over Cork on Sunday.

When Dowling was sprung from the bench in the 56th minute for Seamus Flanagan, Limerick were 1-23 to 1-18 behind. A minute later, Conor Lehane stretched the Cork lead to six points. It wasn’t looking good for the Treaty, but by the time Paud O’Dwyer sounded the long whistle 16 minutes later, they were back on level terms.

Dowling had three points on the board at that stage, but his contribution ran far deeper. He threw himself about the place and drilled his scores so high over the crossbar in a manner they threatened to clear the nets behind the goals. The Limerick fans responded.

Four minutes into the second period of extra-time, Dowling had added another 1-1 to his tally – including a penalty he won and finished himself.

Limerick’s regular free-taker Aaron Gillane was another key cog in their revival, but he limped off with an injury so it was left to Dowling to take the placed ball. Coach Paul Kinnerk made his way onto the field and let the Na Piarisagh man know in no uncertain terms he was to go for the jugular.

Dowling later told RTÉ’s Joanna Cantwell: “I looked at Paul, he came in and his words were, ‘This is how championship games are won. Go for it.’ And I did.”

Shane Dowling scores a penalty in extra time Dowling scores his penalty in extra time Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Dowling’s rasper put Limerick four clear and a minute later they were celebrating another goal – this one from his fellow substitute Pat Ryan. In total, Kiely’s bench provided 2-6 and effectively won Limerick the game.

As it happens, in the two biggest wins of Dowling’s Limerick career he came off the bench to help them over the line. When they lifted the Munster title in 2013, Dowling was introduced after 46 minutes.

“Growing up I was never a sub on any team I had ever played for so,” Dowling continued on the Sports Chronicle. “I wanted to be starting. I wanted to be walking behind the band. I wanted to be arm-in-arm with the lads for Amhrán na bhFiann.

“At the time it was very hard to take. I took consolation in the fact that I would likely get 20 minutes or so to make an impact and I had to make the best of it.”

He made the most of it on that day five years ago too, firing over three late points in their famous victory over Cork.

He referenced the All-Ireland final band once again in that post-game interview with Cantwell, saying: “This time I really hope we’re not just going to get to the final to march behind the band, I want Limerick to go all the way.”

He added with a smile: “It might give John (Kiely) something to think about there in a couple of weeks.”

But such is the importance of substitutes in the modern game, Kiely is likely to persist with the Gillane-Seamus Flanagan-Graeme Mulcahy full-forward line and keep Dowling in reserve for the decider.

Aaron Gillane Gillane stands over a late free against Cork. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Flanagan was quiet by his usual high standards on Sunday but it would be a surprise to see him dropped, given he has started every one of Limerick’s championship games this summer.

Aside from Dowling, Peter Casey, Ryan and Barry Nash were brilliant attacking options for Kiely to summon from the bench on Sunday.

The Limerick boss also introduced the vastly experienced Seamus Hickey during extra-time, in addition to William O’Donoghue and David Reidy. Two-time All-Ireland club finalist Kevin Downes was kept in reserve and didn’t see any action.

It became clear over the weekend that Limerick have the strongest panel in the country. While Cork, Galway and Clare reintroduced players in extra-time who had been previously withdrawn, Kiely fully trusted his replacements to see out the task.

“I think everybody has just bought into what we are trying to do and that is the main difference to be honest,” said centre-back Declan Hannon of their squad depth.

“Back at the start of November and we did a boxing fundraiser and we kinda went at each other on the night of it and it just built morale and built a bond that hasn’t been broken this year.

“Everybody from 1-36, like there is 10 lads in that dressing room who aren’t togged out today and they really drive it. You know a lot of time the ‘B’ team – or the perceived ‘B’ team – are on top in those games.

Declan Hannon and Pat Horgan Declan Hannon and Pat Horgan of Cork James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“You know that is massive preparation for these kind of games. We haven’t played a whole massive amount of challenge games against other counties, we have kinda stuck in-house and worked on ourselves.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Cork win, it was interesting to hear both Kiely and Dowling call on supporters (and the media in the manager’s case) to stay clear of the players in the build-up to the final.

Kiely has largely managed to keep things inside the four walls of the dressing room, but various interviews from the Limerick camp in recent weeks hint at what’s going on behind the scenes.

Keeping away from outside hype is clearly a big part of their thinking, even before they booked a first All-Ireland final in 11 years. Speaking after their quarter-final win over Kilkenny, Tom Morrissey shrugged off a question about Limerick’s past failings with the killer line: “We want to write our own history.”

Hannon followed along those lines on Sunday evening. “It’s gas. None of the boys in that dressing, in a sense, they never talk about that our think about that. It is kind of a new group of lads, a new era.

“As Tom Morrissey said before, ‘We’re trying to create their own history’. We’ve got to the All Ireland final but we obviously want to win it because we really want to make history.”

Tom Morrissey celebrates scoring a late point with Aaron Gillane Tom Morrissey celebrates scoring a late point against Kilkenny with Aaron Gillane Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

‘Creating your own history’ sounds like a phrase a sports psychologist might drill into a group of players who represent a county without an All-Ireland crown in 45 years.

Of course, renowned performance coach Caroline Currid has been working away in the background with Limerick this season. You may not have heard of Currid before, but many elite athletes at home and abroad have crossed paths with her at some stage.

Currid worked with various All-Ireland winning teams in the last decade – Tyrone in 2008, Tipperary in 2010 and Dublin in 2011, as well as Irish rugby legend Paul O’Connell and Kenya’s 800m Olympic champion David Rudisha.

Rudisha, O’Connell, Mickey Harte, Liam Sheedy and Pat Gilroy can’t all be wrong.

The influence of the Sligo woman could be seen after Richie Hogan slammed in a 65th minute goal for Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Hogan’s goal capped off a run of 1-2 without reply for the Cats and sent them two in front. The momentum, it seemed, was with Brian Cody’s men.

Lesser teams would have crumbled, but Limerick outscored Kilkenny by 0-5 to 0-1 in the final eight minutes to close the game out. There was a coldness to their response that would be more associated with the men in black and amber in the past.

John Kiely Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Kiely revealed after that game that his players had mentality envisaged a situation where they conceded a late goal to Kilkenny.

“We were prepared for it. Nothing changed, we were prepared for that, we knew it was going to happen and when you know something is going to happen you’re prepared for it.

“When you’re prepared for it, especially when fellas have been a couple of years in their preparation to get to this point, they have the resolve to do those things out on the field.”

A week later, Morrissey praised Currid for her contribution to the quarter-final victory.

“We have Caroline Currid working with us at the minute and she’s been helping us block all the distractions out and any nonsense that does go on outside our camp,” the wing-forward told the Limerick Leader.

“It is important that the lads are grounded and Caroline has a huge part to play,” added selector Brian Geary. “They are a good group and very much focused on how they play and not what’s happening outside. They can meet people after to discuss it then but we are performance based.”

So when Limerick found themselves six points behind with six minutes left on Sunday, it surprised no-one in their set-up to see them bring the game to extra-time and then win it from there. As Hannon said afterwards, the present Limerick side are “a different group mentally and physically” to the ones that went before them.

John Kiely with his team John Kiely addresses his team after the Cork game. Currid can be seen behind him. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Currid is an avid believer in treating all squad members equally. In an interview with the Irish Independent eight years ago, she revealed that in the minutes before Tipperary took to the field for the 2010 All-Ireland final, Liam Sheedy gave a speech to his substitutes while coach Eamon O’Shea addressed the starters.

“Without our subs, fellas like Kevin McManamon, Dublin simply wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland,” Currid said shortly after Dublin bridged a 16-year gap without the Sam Maguire in 2011.

“Sometimes the second 15 were beating the first 15 in training matches, they pushed and pushed them so hard. Okay, they weren’t in the first 15, but they knew they weren’t far off it and were still getting the maximum out of themselves at training and whenever they were called upon.”

So if Dowling doesn’t get the nod to start the All-Ireland final, Currid may point to Seamus Callanan’s role in the 2010 decider or McManamon’s in 2011 as examples of the impact he could still have off the bench.

A view of the parade Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

On his GAA Hour podcast this week, Colm Parkinson floated the possibility that the entire Limerick squad, rather than the starting 15, would march in the parade on All-Ireland final day.

“Let’s be honest, the parade is a brilliant experience and half your squad doesn’t get it. I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “This is tradition, the 15 (in the parade), because traditionally 15 played and you might have one sub (come on). Now it’s 20 lads playing every game practically.”

Such an action would likely incur a fine from the GAA for a breach of match day regulations, not that Limerick would complain if it helped them land the big prize.

“It’s a small thing that would be nice,” added Parkinson. “I’m surprised no manager has said, ‘I don’t care about the fine.’ Wouldn’t the panel love him (Kiely) for that?”

Currid and Dowling would certainly be on board with that.

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