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Vincent Hogan: Limerick's Kyle Hayes learning in heat of battle

'It was stupid, frustration really more than anything.  Just a silly, immature thing to do. I was annoyed with myself. I wouldn't talk to anyone after, was just kind of in my own world'

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Limerick young gun Kyle Hayes, a Bord Gáis Enegry ambassador, at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy’s #HurlingToTheCore campaign at Mitchelstown Caves   Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Limerick young gun Kyle Hayes, a Bord Gáis Enegry ambassador, at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy’s #HurlingToTheCore campaign at Mitchelstown Caves Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Limerick young gun Kyle Hayes, a Bord Gáis Enegry ambassador, at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy’s #HurlingToTheCore campaign at Mitchelstown Caves Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The trick for Limerick now is to escape this cycle of every game being either a crisis or a new dawn, a 'house private' soliloquy or a christening.

We still see them as cursed by the lottery of their moods. One day putting Waterford to the sword inside 12 surgically cold minutes, the next imploding against Clare in Ennis. Two wildly different faces inside a single week.

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Kyle Hayes with his mother Pat after Limerick’s victory over Tipperary in
the Munster championship at the Gaelic Grounds   Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kyle Hayes with his mother Pat after Limerick’s victory over Tipperary in the Munster championship at the Gaelic Grounds Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kyle Hayes with his mother Pat after Limerick’s victory over Tipperary in the Munster championship at the Gaelic Grounds Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kyle Hayes only turned 20 yesterday, but he's already heard all the little homilies that follow Limerick hurling around. How could he escape them? Four days after being part of that senior team cut down so easily by Clare, he was captain of the U-21s ripped apart by Tipperary in Thurles. A Tipp team subsequently tossed aside by Cork.

The frustration blew some fuses in his head and he was sent off in injury-time for a second yellow.

"The first was for continuous fouling," he reflects candidly. "The second? Yer man went to rise the ball and I just pulled like. It was stupid, frustration really more than anything. Just a silly, immature thing to do, getting sent off like that.

"I was annoyed with myself. Of course I was. I wouldn't talk to anyone after, was just in my own kind of world."

Maybe Limerick could do with more of Hayes's kind of candour. On June 2, Aaron Gillane was red-carded against Cork. On June 17, Tom Condon was red-carded against Clare.

For all the signs of revolution in the county, those sparks of indiscipline hint at familiar, old reflexes tugging them backwards.

So this Limerick could be anything or nothing. Under John Kiely, they have hit moments of gorgeous unity and eloquence, yet the capacity for self-harm still lingers, still raises obstinate questions.

And, tomorrow in Thurles, even a fatigued Kilkenny can be trusted to explore those doubts.

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rational For Hayes then, an understanding grows that Limerick hurling doesn't exist in an entirely rational world. The men of '73 are revered and almost deified at this point, yet they are virtual ghosts to the current team.

He knows Joe McKenna through his involvement with the Limerick Academy, but those other giants of that side, men like Pat Hartigan or the two Eamonns - Cregan and Grimes? They have an almost mythical presence in the subconscious.

"I wouldn't really know them, other than their names," reflects Hayes. "Their pictures are still up in so many Limerick homes, but I suppose it just shows you how hard it is to win an All-Ireland..."

His own childhood heroes would have been Andrew O'Shaughnessy and Brian Geary and, from outside, men like Henry Shefflin and Ken McGrath and Tommy Walsh.

For most of that childhood, Hayes' father, Liam, was chairman of the Kildimo-Pallaskenry club.

It meant Kyle and his two brothers, Cian and Darragh, spending long evenings down in the field immersed in the energies of the place, absorbing that simple sense of identity that is the heartbeat of a GAA life.

Kyle never saw his father hurl, but is happy to draw his own conclusions about where Liam Hayes might have been positioned in the family hierarchy.

"He's missing a few teeth, has these dentures in instead," he grins. "He was a midfielder, good legs to run I think. But not much skill about him!"

He is laughing as he chats because his mischief has one addendum.

You see, both his brothers were decent hurlers too, but Darragh had undergone "four or five" knee operations by the time he was 18 and Cian suffered two ruptured cruciates.

"My mother would have very bad knees as well," he says of Patricia Cross. "So, hopefully, I got the father's knees!"

Standing 6'3" in his socks now, Kyle was a decent soccer player, playing Kennedy Cup for two years with Kildimo before moving on to Mungret Regional where he was centre-back on a team that reached All-Ireland semi-finals in successive years. But once Limerick minors came calling, he knew something had to give.

"The second year with Mungret, I was kind of being dragged everywhere," he remembers. "So I had to make a call."

Two years hurling minor with the county was followed by that U-21 campaign last year which brought Limerick their second All-Ireland crown in three seasons.

Hayes describes the experience as one in which he made "friends for life" and is hugely frustrated that he will not now get a third year in the grade in 2019, given the switch to U-20s.

So senior is the only show in town from here on in and, already, this campaign has exposed him to life in the company of marquee names like Pádraic Maher and Austin Gleeson.

He was just 18 when making his senior championship debut against Clare last year and, if adult inter-county is a serious psychological and physical step-up on age-grade hurling, he looks to have taken it in his stride.

"I'm never really nervous before a game, I'm kind of chillaxed!" he says. "I wouldn't be getting worked up or anything but that match, particularly during the parade, I felt something totally different. That was my first real experience of nerves.

"The build-up to it had been okay because not a lot of people knew I was going to start. There was little enough talk about me."

He has his match-day rituals to adhere to now. His own seat on the bus (halfway down, behind the toilet, better leg-room).

His own music (anything by the late Biggie Smalls, some Wolfe Tones or Christy Moore and always, at some point, 'Feel The Love' by Rudimental). A tape around his right wrist. A new grip on his hurley from the night before.

soulmate Usually, he sits beside Pat Ryan, a fellow Liverpool supporter and, accordingly, soulmate.

They were training the night of the Champions League final and he'll never forget the sight of Gearóid Hegarty (a regular Anfield attendee) barrelling for the gate while most were still just taking off the bibs.

"We were a bit miserable going in for the few nights after," he says of Liverpool's defeat by Real Madrid. "I mean you couldn't make up what happened them in the final. Thank God the World Cup was still to come, it gave us a bit of a distraction."

He's not an avid reader, but has gotten through the autobiographies of Paul O'Connell and Jackie Tyrrell and Ronan O'Gara and Steven Gerrard.

There are few enough Limerick hurling books out there, yet maybe those that do exist communicate a central truth in their titles.

Henry Martin's 'Unlimited Heartbreak' and 'Mick Mackey - Hurling Legend in a Troubled County' speak of a hurling community broadly unaccustomed to tranquillity.

So those four days last month, straddling the senior defeat to Clare and U-21 loss to Tipp, perpetuated that familiar sense of a reflex volatility in Limerick hurling.

Hayes recognises why people might see things that way. He slipped away with a few close friends to Dromore Lake for the couple of days after that U-21 loss, flushing the toxins from his system.

"The worst thing you can do is stay by yourself in that situation, you'd go into a depression" he reflects.

"I just like having people around me who won't talk about hurling. And after a few days, you feel that hunger, that freshness creeping back in. I mean you'd miss having a social life sometimes, but I've learnt there's a lot of bigger and better things than going out having a few pints with someone.

"Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy that. But I'd much rather be out in Croke Park in front of 60,000 people, playing an All-Ireland semi-final than having the opportunity to go out drinking.

"I've the rest of my life to do that. Soon as I retire, I can go on the beer if that's what I want."

So what exactly unravelled in those four days?

"I think playing the third week in a row was proving a big thing for everyone," he says of the seniors' defeat to Clare.

"But, again, I don't like using that as an excuse. They were better than us on the day and Ennis is a difficult place to play. I think they picked up on the emotion of their crowd and everything they did on the day was super.

wiped "Same as the first half against Cork, they just wiped us off the field. They played the sweeper role brilliantly, Jamie Shanahan read every ball that went in. But maybe we could have been a bit more clever too."

Hayes made a point of trying not to carry any of that Ennis hangover to U-21 training the following Tuesday. "I was captain so couldn't be going around with my head down," he remembers. "I was trying to rise everyone for it and I thought training went very well.

"But whatever we did against Tipp didn't seem to work. It was just a bad week for Limerick hurling."

He recognises the desperation in their supporters, yet believes they have an understanding of the need for patience too.

"They obviously want to see Limerick win an All-Ireland," Hayes acknowledges.

"They can see there's a nice crop of players there. It mightn't happen this year or it might. I think they're willing to give us time. They can see signs of it happening, but I think they're patient too.

"Bottom line, they just don't want anything half-hearted and you couldn't blame for that either. If they see the players giving everything, Limerick supporters can settle for that."

Hayes, who is also being kept busy with his work as a Bord Gáis Energy ambassador, couldn't find the appetite to watch the Cork-Clare Munster final, choosing to busy himself with some chores on the family's dairy farm instead. "I'd get frustrated watching, thinking we should have been there!" But he did see both Leinster finals.

And one timeless conclusion to draw?

"The worst thing you could ever do is write off Kilkenny. We've seen that over the years, they're never beaten. They're always there until the final whistle."

The trick for Limerick now will be to find that kind of obstinacy in themselves.


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