Gearóid Hegarty has just been reminded that he burned it up in the All-Ireland final. “There’s been worse things said about me,” he replies.
At times during 2022, however, he was more in danger of being burned by officialdom. Sent off on a straight red against Galway in the league – correctly, he readily agrees. Sent off for two yellow cards against Clare during the Munster round-robin campaign – not so correctly, he insists.
But at no stage this summer was Hegarty worried about earning a reputation that would count against him when it mattered most. Nor was he remotely perturbed when informed that Colm Lyons – who had banished him that day in Ennis – had been appointed as referee for this year’s All-Ireland against Kilkenny.
“It got sent on to me by about five different people on WhatsApp the second he got appointed,” said the PwC hurler of the month for July. “I was just thinking people love controversy ... and I just didn’t care.
“I was nearly delighted he was the referee because everything that went on in Cusack Park, I was obviously extremely disappointed with – I think it’s fairly OK to say I didn’t deserve to be given either yellow card.
“But in the pre-game when we’d shaken all the Kilkenny lads’ hands and then you shake the referee’s hand and I walked up to Colm, he said ‘Best of luck, Gearóid’, I said ‘Best of luck, Colm’ – and that was it.
“And I thought he was outstanding. Look, anybody can make a mistake. I’ve made loads of them myself. Made one this year in the league against Galway – things like that happen but, you know, you’ve just got to learn from them.”
Hegarty doesn’t shy away from the fact that physicality is an essential part of Limerick’s game and he’d hate to see that “filtered out” of hurling.
“If you look at the best games this year, they were all extremely physical contests,” he pointed out. “The league is definitely refereed differently to the championship for whatever reason, I don’t know why, and even the later stages of the championship are even a little bit different to the Munster championship.
“Obviously we’re a fairly physical team ... but, you know, I think a good few teams took us on in that element this year and they made for brilliant games. I wouldn’t be worried that it’s going to go out of the game. I think physicality is a major component of the GAA, both hurling and football.”
Hegarty knows his football: he played senior for Limerick in a previous incarnation. He also loves his golf and another summer highlight – apart from shooting 1-5 against the Cats – was the chance to meet Tiger Woods during last month’s JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor.
“I was bold enough now – I don’t know was I supposed to do it or not – but I said I’m probably never going to be in this situation again and get to ask the man a question,” he recalled.
“He was standing at the back of the green waiting for Leona Maguire to hit her shot before he could go up and putt.
“I was beside Barry Nash and he’s pure quiet and shy. And I just said ‘Right, this is our chance,’ because we’d been following him since the first 11 holes and I was just waiting and waiting.
“I kind of just introduced myself and mentioned Limerick because I know he may have heard of that before through his connection with JP. He was lovely, I just had a chat with him for a couple of minutes.
“Couldn’t tell you what I said to him, I don’t know if I even made sense. I just wanted to get a photo with him and say that I spoke to him, but what an unreal man. As I said, he was my hero growing up, so it’s really cool to have that moment.”
Finally, back to the other small ball. Taken off in the 2018 All-Ireland final, Hegarty has been spectacularly good in the last three but has no idea why that is the case other than “I do love Croke Park.”
He was surprised by the subsequent retirement of Kilkenny boss Brian Cody (“the greatest manager of all time”) and was “disgusted” that he missed all bar the last 30 seconds of Cody’s post-All-Ireland speech as he was late back to the Limerick dressing-room.
And finally, his message for the Shannonside faithful: “Growing up as a Limerick fan, I could probably count on one hand how many great days I can remember,” the 28-year-old said.
“So the kids growing up in Limerick that are 12 or 13 or below and maybe have never seen us beaten or beaten once and think this is the norm … I’m old enough to know this isn’t the norm. To enjoy it while it lasts.”