Gearoid Hegarty came out of his home in Dromcollogher, west Limerick, yesterday morning and smiled at the message daubed on his car.
He hadn’t washed it in a while and inscribed in the dirt was “Up Cork!”
“I’m literally right up on the Cork border so I actually meet more Cork people than I do nearly Limerick people,” explained the big forward.
Still, Limerick or Cork folk – even the Cork ones who would take their index finger to a Limerick All-Star’s car – they’re all pretty much saying the same thing at the moment, that John Kiely’s crew look damn near unbeatable.
Hegarty was up in Croke Park with his fellow Bord Gáis Energy ambassador Joe Canning for a media event yesterday and overheard the Galway great, who also lives in Limerick now, speak of locals talking loosely about the Shannonsiders comfortably winning six-in-a-row in the coming years.
They’re currently sitting on three consecutive wins and will begin their latest Championship campaign on Sunday against Waterford in Thurles.
“You hear that, you hear that nonsense,” acknowledged Hegarty of Canning’s remark. “That is crazy thinking. Sport, as we’ve seen in all types of sports over the years, it changes very, very quickly.
“Look at the drop-off Liverpool have seen this year. It’s incredible, it’s mad. That’s the way sport is, You never know what can happen.
“We won the league final last week but you’ve got two games now coming in six days, if you’re not 100 per cent focused, and I mean that, if you’re even a small bit off, you’re in trouble. That’s high-level sport for you.
“It’s crazy to see the drop-off in Liverpool this year, going from almost winning everything last year, a kick of a ball from winning everything, won the two cups, beaten in the Champions League final, beaten in the Premier League by a point, maybe going down as the greatest team ever, to such an incredible drop-off.
“They mightn’t even finish in any European spot this season, so it’s insane. It’s mad what can happen from year to year. So taking nothing for granted, six-in-a-row is crazy talk.”
Hegarty agreed that winning the National League title so convincingly only added to the expectation levels within the county.
“In terms of the hype around Limerick, it’s much, much different going into the Championship this year than it was last year,” he said. “In a good way, but also in a negative way with the hype as well. You have to make sure you’re focused.
“I would always be fairly shut off from it to be totally honest. Because you only have to look at what has gone on in the past. Look at Waterford’s league last year and how they went in the Championship.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot for you to be off. It doesn’t take a whole lot for you to get ahead of yourself after the league going into the Championship.
“We’re playing Championship this weekend. You’ll have two games in six days. It’s not unrealistic to say you mightn’t win either game. All of a sudden then you’re way behind the eight ball.”
Yet as cautious as he is, Hegarty agreed that Limerick’s panel has never been as strong.
They managed to win the league title despite fielding a remarkable 37 different players throughout the campaign.
And not a single player started every match, indicating a deep panel bursting with talent.
“We have a lot of really top-class young lads who have come on to the panel the last two or three years,” said the 2020 Hurler of the Year. “The level of competition in the panel, it’s always been very strong. When everybody is fit, fighting for starting jerseys, fighting to get on the panel – that’s exactly what you want.”
Captain Declan Hannon and Kyle Hayes were late withdrawals from the Limerick team that beat Kilkenny in the league decider.
“Declan was sick,” said Hegarty. “Kyle had a small niggle, probably could have played. If it was an All-Ireland final, he probably would have played. Kyle’s fine, Kyle’s trained fully since.”
Three-time All-Star Hegarty is keen to heap more misery on Waterford when they meet in Thurles.
They beat the Deise in the 2020 All-Ireland decider and again at the semi-final stage the following season.
They’ve had Waterford’s number within Munster too, though Davy Fitzgerald will be expected to pull a rabbit from the hat this time.
“We do a little bit of analysis on the opposition, maybe on the week beforehand or on the Tuesday night before,” said Hegarty.
“But 95 per cent of the game plan is around making sure we’re looking after ourselves, that we’re as prepared as possible, that we’re in a good position and have trained as hard as we can. Things like that. We always focus on ourselves.”
– Gearoid Hegarty was speaking at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy’s “It’s Anyone’s Game” campaign to promote inclusivity in hurling. See bordgaisenergy.ie/home/bge-gaa