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John Kiely: 'I was very resolute in myself in my determination that wouldn’t be the case this year'

After losing both championship in 2017, the Limerick boss has brought them to the All-Ireland final in 2018.

John Kiely has overseen a major transformation in Limerick's fortunes.
John Kiely has overseen a major transformation in Limerick's fortunes.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE DISAPPOINTMENT WAS etched all over John Kiely’s face.

On the second evening of July last year, Limerick’s race in the hurling championship was officially run.

They ended up three points in arrears to Kilkenny. They slipped out of the 2017 hurling race without a win to their name, that Nowlan Park reversal following up on a fall at the opening Munster hurdle to Clare.

And their manager was shattered at the outcome. Nine months of painstaking preparation, two championship games and a pair of defeats. It was a sobering experience.

But amidst the wreckage of that defeat, Kiely made a vow there would be no repeat of that campaign.

As he gears up for next Sunday’s All-Ireland final, it has been quite a metamorphosis that he has presided over in the space of a year.

“I’ll tell you one thing. I was very resolute in myself in my determination that that wouldn’t be the case this year. Very, very soon after that game (loss to Kilkenny), within probably a month I would have in my own head, for me anyway, said that we’re going to be in a better place this time next year and we cannot go through another season like that again.

Limerick supporters applaud their players Dejected Limerick players after the defeat to Kilkenny last July. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“You just look at everything you’re doing, and trying to improve it in every facet in what we can do to help the players. You’ve to be honest and just accept the fact that you just didn’t do it.

“If you’re not being honest with yourself about what needs to be done to make things better, you’ll never improve. So it’s always about looking for that next level of improvement. Where’s that going to come from?

“A lot of that can sometimes be the systems that are in place, whether it being strength and conditioning, them being a year older, a year’s more work done under them, they’re stronger, a year’s more coaching done with Paul Kinnerk and Brian Geary, Jimmy Quilty and Alan Cunningham, that’s another thing.

“You look at the things like nutrition. What can you do to make the nutrition better? The meals at training, the meals after matches, the arrangements we make around them. The rehab facilities they have, the rehab equipment they have available to them. All those areas that you look at and say, how can we make things better?”

John Kiely celebrates John Kiely celebrates Limerick's victory over Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

As a player, Kiely operated in a different era. He was a sub for the 1996 All-Ireland final and hurled for seasons when everything hinged on that knockout Munster clash.

The contrast with the 2018 team he manages is stark. They were guaranteed four summer outings at the outset of the season and have thrived. Limerick have beaten the traditional trio that ruled hurling – Tipperary, Kilkenny and Cork – along with last year’s All-Ireland finalists Waterford.

That has generated plenty momentum throughout the year.

“It was cruel but sure we knew no different at the time and just got on with it,” recalls Kiely of his playing days.

“You hoped to get that momentum again. You wanted to get on a run. That hasn’t changed.

“I suppose we gathered a bit of momentum (this year) going through the various competitions, the boys grew in confidence and belief in themselves. I think getting out of (Division) 1B was an achievement for the lads.

“Coming out of Munster was an achievement for the lads. We just felt then that we wanted to have a real cut off the All-Ireland series, and see where it would take us.

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“We’ve incrementally improved throughout the whole season which was a real positive as well, and something I’m very proud of.”

After that gripping extra-time win over Cork, he was able to sit back a week later in Thurles and take it all in as the battle for the right to face Limerick unfolded. Galway’s emergence confirms their leading status in Kiely’s mind.

Daithi Burke celebrates after the game with fans David Burke celebrates Galway's victory over Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final replay. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It was no harm (to watch it), we weren’t on the clock. Sure listen it was a titanic battle again. Galway have gone eight matches unbeaten now so it’s a very impressive run.

“They did likewise last year, they went through the league, went through the Leinster championship, went through the All-Ireland series without losing a game. They’re the stand-bearers, they’re the form horse at the moment, they’re a serious outfit.

“If you gave me a choice of preparing for an All-Ireland final, or being on holidays, I know I’d be here. Definitely.

“Sure that’s why we’re doing all the work we’re doing. That’s why we go through all these training sessions in November, December, January, February, the wind and rain and hail and snow. That’s why we’re doing it – to get here.

“Our plan at the start of the year is to be here right now getting ready for this next game. There’s great satisfaction knowing that we’ve now reached that stage of the plan, and we’re trying to execute it as best we can.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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