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Loss of highly-rated S&C coach, continuity of Kiely staying on and Limerick's 'mental fortitude'

Seamus Hickey looks at the changes in the Treaty’s backroom team and reflects on their 2019 campaign.

Limerick manager John Kiely.
Limerick manager John Kiely.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

WHILE JOHN KIELY committed to a new two-year term in charge of the Limerick this off-season, he’s lost two key members of his backroom team ahead of 2020.

Joe O’Connor and Brian Geary departed the set-up, becoming the second and third members of Kiely’s All-Ireland winning coaching team to step away, following Jimmy Quilty’s exit 12 months earlier.

Limerick’s 2013 Munster winning captain Donal O’Grady replaces Geary, while Mikey Kiely comes on board as the new strength and conditioning coach in place of the highly-rated O’Connor.

Seamus Hickey believes the loss of O’Connor will be keenly felt by his former Limerick team-mates.

A lecturer in exercise physiology at IT Tralee, O’Connor was credited with revolutionising Limerick’s approach to physical training which propelled them to Liam MacCarthy glory last year.

He spent four years with the squad after his appointment by TJ Ryan in 2016.

“I was very surprised and disappointed that Joe O’Connor wasn’t able to continue,” said Hickey. “But I fully understood. He has a thriving business and he’s very committed elsewhere, he loved doing what he did for Limerick.

“Mikey Kiely has gone in, terrific addition, I don’t know if you want to say a disciple of Joe, but Mikey was obviously there with John Kiely with the successful U21 teams. So there’s a familiarity there, he has huge respect among the players.”

joe-oconnor Joe O'Connor runs the Limerick warm-up ahead of the Munster SHC clash against Clare. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Connor’s replacement Kiely was S&C coach with the Limerick U21s for their All-Ireland victory in 2017 and operated in a similar role for Clare’s All-Ireland success at the same grade in 2013. He served as S&C coach with the Treaty’s footballers in the past.

“I’d know Mikey myself from the work he’s done with underage teams in Limerick,” continued Hickey.

“He’s very well respected and if you’re talking about losing a really top class coach in Joe, you’re getting somebody who is equally qualified, equally familiar.

“The dynamic between S&C and our hurling coach in Paul (Kinnerk)…with Joe and Paul it was really perfect synergy, I don’t see that actually dropping off at all with Mikey.”

Reflecting on his inter-county career where he worked under a plethora of managers, Hickey sees huge value in the manager’s decision to sign-up for a further two years, with the option for a third.

“John staying on is massive. I craved continuity when I was there with Limerick. I probably had, in 12 years, something like eight managers.

“That inhibits a team’s progression. It’s super that Limerick has the likes of John and that’s he able to commit. Like, he’s the principal of a secondary school, what an enormous time commitment he’s giving, with a young family as well. I think that’s a huge positive for Limerick.”

Limerick backed up their 2018 All-Ireland victory by delivering National League and Munster honours this year. Following their provincial final hammering of Tipperary, it was the first time the Treaty held all three major trophies since 1936.

Hickey, who retired at the end of last season, finds it hard to put his finger on just where it went wrong for Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny.

seamus-hickey Seamus Hickey lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2018. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Kilkenny were mentally ready for the game, 100%. And especially for a team for whom mental fortitude was their calling card in 2018, that’ll be frustrating.

“And like look at the performance Limerick brought in the Munster final, that was mental fortitude and that was being ready for the battle.

“Unfortunately there’s days – and I’ve been part of them – that from the moment you get up in the morning, there’s something you can’t figure it out, and Kilkenny had that,” he remarked.

“It was just a tough one for Limerick. What had the potential for a terrific year then to get lost in that was a pity.

“Because (being) National League champions, in the manner that they did, Munster champions, in the manner that they did, in the last 45 years last year was probably the only one that trumps this one.”

But Hickey was impressed by the appetite Limerick showed throughout the year, given that many sides who end a drought tend not to show as well the following season.

“It’s good for Limerick. It’s good for Limerick that there was that ambition and that comfort with the tag of champions.

“It might be a small thing but we went to Boston last year and played the Fenway challenge in Fenway Park and we won it, because the lads were just used to winning. And they want to win things.

“They don’t want to show up to a game and not win it. There were questions about appetite and hunger about every team (that wins the All-Ireland).

“I remember Galway in 2017, their appetite (was questioned), they got to an All-Ireland again and were within a free from their own 45 of taking that game beyond Limerick.

“I thought we answered the call very well. I thought that John did very well in terms of how he managed the attitude and the approach.

“I feel that they did everything right, paced themselves throughout Munster, paced themselves throughout the league, bar the semi-final. And for the players, that’s what makes it especially hard.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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