There is something John Kiely wants you to know: Clare outworked Limerick when the sides met at the Gaelic Grounds in April, which suggests it is an irritant the Limerick camp has been ruminating on ahead of Sunday’s Munster Senior Hurling Championship final.
Speaking in the Gaelic Grounds on Tuesday afternoon, on three occasions Kiely referenced his side being “outworked” by Clare in the round-robin game when the Banner ended Limerick’s 17-match unbeaten championship record at the Ennis Road venue with a 1-24 to 2-20 victory.
Sunday’s sold-out Munster decider will be won on the pitch, but Clare’s request to have the showdown take place in Limerick’s backyard has created all sorts of overthinking off it. If Clare intend to be the noisy neighbour muscling in on the lawn next door, then Limerick are determined to shove them straight back out the gate.
Clare are searching for a first Munster senior hurling title since 1998, Limerick have won the last four. If measuring hunger is impossible, you still wouldn’t need to be a dietician to conclude whose belly might be rumbling loudest this week. So, if the Limerick players need to generate an edge or a cause, it seems getting “outworked” by Clare six weeks ago is as good a one as any for Kiely to run up the flagpole this week.
“We saw it in the round-robin, they outworked us in that match by a considerable amount,” said the Limerick manager.
“Hence, we were chasing the game in the last 10 minutes. They were quite comfortable winners really in the finish, we got a goal, but it was a consolation goal. That’s the challenge for us now on Sunday. We’ve got to find a way of working harder than them across the 70-plus minutes and giving ourselves opportunities and hopefully taking them as they come.”
Not all roads were leading back to the Gaelic Grounds for this final, with the Munster Council initially favouring Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Clare wanted Semple Stadium, while Limerick were happy enough with Cork. Some might argue Clare’s hand was forced, nevertheless, it was a fascinating one for them to put on the table — “we’ll play in Limerick”.
“I wouldn’t say surprised,” replied Kiely when asked about his reaction on first hearing Clare’s proposal. I can see the thought process behind it. That was their decision, that was their request.
“The offer was made by the Clare management team to play it in the Gaelic Grounds and between the two county boards they ironed out an agreement that satisfied both parties. I think everybody is happy with the fixture now, looking forward to it and I think it will be a very special occasion.”
Despite the 50-50 allocation of tickets between both counties, Kiely is still keen for the Gaelic Grounds to feel very much like home territory this weekend.
“Your home ground is your home ground, no matter what,” he added. “We are very proud of our record here, we are very proud to play here, it means a lot to us. We love training here, we love spending time here and we are certainly going to look forward to playing a Munster final here.”
Kiely, apart from long-term injury absentness, hopes to have a fully fit panel to select from and confirmed Seán Finn successfully underwent surgery on his torn cruciate ligament, with the defender expected to make a full recovery for next season.
There has been a narrative swirling around this season that the chasing pack has reeled in Limerick when it comes to physicality and any perceived advantage they might have had in terms of strength and conditioning. It is not a storyline Kiely agrees with, for he feels it was always something of a fable.
“It’s a really hard one to judge. I think even that perception that we were a very physical team, I wouldn’t buy that over the last four years,” he said. “I think that’s a load of nonsense. How is that measured? What do you do? You were 80 pounds a heavier team? What is it? I don’t see any measurement that would stack that up.
“I think the other teams were just as strong in other years, we were just in a strong vein of form. I think that’s where we stand on it. To us, that concept of us being physically stronger than the opposition doesn’t hold water.
“I don’t believe there’s any material difference really between the teams now and a couple of years ago. I just think that perception is there because our lads are probably tall. We’re still tall. Being tall doesn’t mean you’re going to bully fellas around the field. It means you’ve got to work hard yourself all the time.”
Cork are the only county to have won five Munster senior hurling titles on the bounce, the most recent run occurring between 1982-86. Limerick, who have already rewritten so much history under Kiely, will join the Rebels on five-in-a-row should they win on Sunday.
“I didn’t even know until you mentioned it, to be honest with you,” replied Kiely, without smiling.
But the Limerick manager knows the root causes of April’s defeat to Brian Lohan’s side.
“Losing to Clare in the round-robin was very disappointing for us,” said Kiely. “It was the blemish on our record in the round-robin. They were the better team on the night, they outworked us and they were far more accurate than us, so they deserved their result in that game. But we’ll have learned a lot from it.”