Earlier this year, when Limerick were still searching for their first win in the National League, Mike Casey had his own little milestone success.
Limerick hadn’t managed a win in four attempts in the league at that point but after a most unfortunate series of events, Casey was about to start his first game for Limerick in two years.
Back in 2020, the All-Ireland-winning full-back was motoring well, playing four of the first five games in that year’s league. However, Covid hit and set in chain setback after setback that would see him out of action.
“In October 2020 we played a challenge against Galway and I did the cruciate then,” Casey explains, picking up the story.
“I had surgery in mid-November, and around July, after my nine months, I came back and played a club game and got through that okay – then the next training session I had a cartilage issue. I felt a pop in the knee and unfortunately my cartilage had given way.
“In July 2021, I got that surgery done by Ray Moran up in Santry; they were excellent – they said it happens sometimes, it’s not related (to the cruciate). So they tried to stitch up that cartilage and unfortunately it wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped, so I went back in December 2021 to have that cartilage removed.
“Thankfully, I haven’t looked back since.”
Back in the thick of it, it’s easy to forget that the road back was a grind.
“There were definitely dark moments – my girlfriend, Jessica, I’ve been with her five or six years and she was excellent through it all. Any time I had a setback and needed someone to talk to she was there for me. And with the group, a lot of the lads have been through a lot of things, knee surgeries and things like that. And I never left the group.
“I was asked to come in and help with stats and that so I was part of everything that was going on, there was some small bit to contribute to the team.”
He missed plenty in his time out with Limerick sweeping the boards. And while he could help out with the analysis, he also found himself in the unwanted position of being able to advise his brother Peter on his own recovery. He damaged his ACL in last year’s All-Ireland final while in the midst of a tour de force and has just recently returned to full training.
“It was really unfortunate but he’s been able to bounce ideas off me and ask me questions. With an ACL they’re all different but Barry Murphy did his the week after in a club game but they’ve rehabbed unbelievably well under our medical team.”
In the wake of the Munster final win over Clare, a photo featuring Casey and a few of his team-mates celebrating shirtless emerged.
Their remarkable physiques served as a reminder that while they’ve led the way with their hurling, Limerick’s physical conditioning is top drawer too. “It (gym work) is such a fundamental to it. If you’re progressing there, it is definitely going to help you on the field.
“Yes, it’s not the be all and end all of it. You still have to put the ball over the bar. Your bicep curls aren’t going to do that for you.
“But we’re really, really competitive in there, and everyone takes massive pride in it.
“And it’s definitely something that if you are slacking, lads are going to let you know that you need to improve this aspect of where you’re coming at. A lot of lads have really bought in.”
Limerick face Galway this weekend, two wins from yet more silverware for this remarkable team. A third consecutive All-Ireland win would force them deeper into the ‘great teams’ conversation. But for Casey there’s no real secret to their success.
“It’s about getting down to the brass tacks and working and winning that ball. We love doing that.
“It doesn’t matter if we win the game by 20 points or by one point to no score – we love the battle and the intensity and working hard. I think we’ve put that stamp on our play – when people come and play us they know they have to match that.”