Neighbours from hell hold Limerick back
IMPORTANT dates in September are occupying the minds of dozens of footballers and hurlers these days and while Limerick midfielder John Galvin is no different, his thoughts don't include being in Croke Park, certainly not as a player.
Instead, he is focusing on Monday, September 6, the day when he undergoes an operation on his cruciate ligament.
His season ended a few weeks ago when a Down opponent landed awkwardly on his leg during a challenge game. His knee bent inwards and, in an instant, he had become the latest of many victims in what is a virtual cruciate epidemic among GAA players.
It took two days before the full extent of the damage was known -- indeed he was encouraged by how well he felt after the initial pain blast had settled down 24 hours later -- but there was to be no reprieve. A scan showed that his season was over.
The sense of disappointment is especially acute this week as Limerick prepare to begin their championship campaign at home to Kerry on Saturday evening. Galvin has remained involved with the squad, delving into his vast reserves of experience to help the cause, as Limerick make another attempt to break free from the unrelenting grip of Munster's 'Big Two'.
If Limerick were to finally deliver on the threat they have posed to Kerry on several occasions over the last seven years, it's almost certain that Cork's giant hand will be raised against them in the final. They have consistently troubled Cork too but, so far at least, remain unable to break free of their domineering neighbours.
Geography has prevailed against Limerick, locking them into a province where they are up against two of the strongest powers in football every year.
"We are where we are. That certainly applies to Limerick football and indeed to Tipperary, Clare and Waterford too. I doubt if many counties in other provinces would swap places with us. Would they fancy playing Kerry and Cork every year? It's pretty tough going," said Galvin.
He believes that if Limerick were in the Connacht or Leinster championships over the past decade, they would have won provincial titles and had a real shot at the All-Ireland.
He has no wish to leave Munster but says that with Cork and Kerry ("the two favourites for the All-Ireland again this year") providing the opposition, it makes life very difficult for the other four counties.
Limerick's record against both Kerry and Cork over the last eight years shows just one championship win, but the Treaty men have had so many close calls and disappointments that it has taken a special brand of courage to keep battling on.
Last year, for instance, they took Cork to extra-time in the qualifiers, having earlier run Kerry to three points in the Munster final after having several chances to go ahead when the sides were level late on. A year earlier, they lost to Cork by a point, having lost by three to the Leesiders a year earlier after conceding two late goals.
However, it's 2004 that still haunts Limerick the most. They drew the Munster final with Kerry after dominating for long periods and blew a seven-point lead in the replay.
"Kerry went on to win the All-Ireland title quite easily after that. It left us wondering what might have been. We certainly gave them the hardest games they got that summer," said Galvin.
With the exception of 2001, when he spent summer in the US, he has been a regular on the Limerick team since making his debut as an 18-year-old in 1999 and has established himself as one of the best midfielders of his generation. Chosen on the GPA Team of the Year last season, Galvin was looking forward to a big campaign in 2011 but Limerick stuttered in the league, eventually being relegated.
"We played by the rules and didn't start collective training until January. I'm not sure others did, judging by how well tuned they seemed early in the league. We improved as the season went on and were really looking forward to the championship. The lads still are but there's nothing I can do now only support them as best I can from the sidelines," he said.
With Stephen Lucey also out injured, Limerick's prospects against Kerry have greatly decreased, although Galvin believes they still have a decent chance of causing an upset.
"We'd always believe we can compete against the very best. We haven't had much luck over the years and it hasn't got any better on that front so far this season so maybe it's about to change. You have to believe, going into a game like Saturday's against Kerry," he said.
In normal circumstances, players requiring cruciate operations wouldn't wait five months but Galvin is coming into a busy time on the farm -- hence the decision to leave surgery until September.
After that, he will work as diligently as required in rehab to make sure he's ready for 2012.
"I'll be 31 in July so I've only got a few years left. Hopefully, the operation will go well and I'll be ready for the league next year. I wasn't the best of company when I found out how serious the injury was but I've got used to it now. I'll miss not being able to play against Kerry but if we win, I'll enjoy it as much as everyone else. I'd have full faith in our lads to give it a right go," he said.