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Michael Verney: 'Weight of history no burden to Treaty as exceptional group bid to back it up'



John Kiely. Photo: Sportsfile

John Kiely. Photo: Sportsfile


John Kiely. Photo: Sportsfile

The common consensus is that Limerick will struggle to scale the same heights as 2018 when attempting to defend their All-Ireland SHC crown, but history suggests otherwise.

No one is debating that getting their hands on Liam MacCarthy again will prove a mammoth task after ending 45 years of hurt, but solace can be taken from the displays of many of their predecessors. A glance back through the last 25 years shows that seven reigning champions were able to hold onto their All-Ireland title, albeit six of those were Brian Cody's Kilkenny (2003, '07, '08, '09, 2012 and '15), one of the greatest teams to play the game.

Cork ('05) were the only other team to do so but much confidence can also be taken from the rest. Another seven defending their spoils - including Galway last year - made it back to the All-Ireland final.

A further seven champions bowed out at the semi-final stage to highlight that All-Ireland wins are rarely an aberration. Once the peak has been scaled - especially as Limerick did things the hard way by beating Tipperary, Kilkenny, Cork and Galway en route - the form has been consistently franked the following season and champions rarely flop.

The only exception to the rule over the last quarter of a century is Clare's 2013 All-Ireland-winning side with this year's semi-final appearance marking their first time back in Croke Park since that final win.

It is from their western neighbours that a youthful Limerick can learn most. They too stood at the pinnacle of the hurling world on the back of All-Ireland U-21 success but the Banner have struggled to back it up.

It's hard to quantify the added baggage that weighs on a player's shoulders after a breakthrough season but manager John Kiely took preventative action just minutes after they scaled the Hogan Stand steps.

Limerick's hugely insightful commemorative DVD to mark their success entitled 'Dreams - An unforgettable journey' is an eye-opener to how Kiely has managed to keep this precocious group grounded.

Hype was no issue in their All-Ireland final build-up as they quietly embraced the occasion and the Limerick boss had no intention of letting this life-changing victory alter their constitution, as evidenced by his speech as their bus whizzed from Croke Park to CityWest having just achieved their dreams.

"We will be judged as we go forward as people on how we carry this victory. As people. I want to be the same man I was two years ago, a year ago, last September, October," Kiely said. "We have got to embrace humility, embrace respect, for ourselves first and foremost, for the group next. We are who we are. I don't want it to change me and don't allow it to change you.

"We're ordinary Joes who've been very privileged, very honoured to be part of this group and it will be forever a gift to us what we have today. This is the gift. Treasure it, really treasure it lads.

"Look after each other, look out for each other, protect each other. You'll need each other, we will all need each other to make sure we enjoy it as much as we possibly can, in the right way."

You often hear of a county shutting down for months after such a seismic victory but while visiting schools and hospitals only finished in the weeks before Christmas, Declan Hannon and Co were back to normality in record time, something noted by Clare star Podge Collins when asked how they should deal with their new-found success.

"I don't think they need any advice, I think they've handled themselves very well from being in Limerick and being out a few nights and seeing them. They look after themselves very well. They're an exceptional group, they're handling it very well," Collins said.

Star men like Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch and Young Hurler of the Year Kyle Hayes have carried themselves with aplomb and while 2019 has only commenced - and they're still enjoying the Mexican life in CancĂșn on their team holiday - it's clear that they have no intention of allowing this to be a one-in-a-row.

In Kiely, they have a calculated leader who knows that "you can't copy and paste" what worked in 2018 and expect the same in 2019 while in Paul Kinnerk, they have one of the game's most innovative minds.

It is unlikely that complacency will be allowed to fester as this Limerick crop give every impression of being a different breed and watching them respectfully soak up All-Ireland victory in their team hotel the morning after just emphasised that.

This group of serial winners don't want the label of one-hit wonders.

Irish Independent