Until he encountered Paul Kinnerk, Aaron Gillane never thought much about the art of free-taking.
“I’d just throw the ball down and take it,” said the 26-year-old whose marksmanship is a key element in Limerick’s current dominance of hurling.
Under the tutelage of the renowned Limerick coach, Gillane built what has proved a near fail-safe routine into every free he now takes.
“Paul taught me a few valid points about building a routine, which I now go through in my head every time I’m standing over a free. Now I think about the routine, rather than the consequences of the free, or whether the stadium is full or not.”
Routines will only take you so far though; nothing beats regular practice.
“Anybody who says they don’t practice frees is lying. Obviously, it takes time to lay down the routine, so you know exactly what you are going to do. But practice is still vital.
“Normally I would practice frees for half an hour before the start of a training session. But I’m less than a minute away from the hurling field in Patrickswell, so I can knock up there whenever I want.
“I never move on after missing a free until I scored two in a row from exactly the same point. This was something else Paul drilled into me. Basically, I have changed my style completely since coming into the senior panel from the under 21s.”
Kinnerk has had a seminal influence not just on Gillane, but on the entire Limerick squad, due to the ingenuity of his training sessions.
“The one thing about Paul’s training is you know beforehand they are always going to be top class. They are always based on something we are going to face the following week or against a team down the line.
“He puts an awful lot of thought into the sessions. He drives on the sessions himself along with the other lads involved. But I couldn’t talk highly enough of him. He is the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’d say the other 35 lads on the panel would say the same about him.
“You look forward [to] going to his training, because you know it is what you are going to face in a match. At the end of the day we love playing matches and that’s exactly what you get when you go training.”
Psychologist Caroline Currid is another member of the Limerick backroom team who has played a pivotal role in the team’s four All-Ireland wins in the last five years. Gillane suggests her genius lies in her capacity to recognise what motivates each player.
“I try to be chilled out and easy-going. She says if that is what works for me, then I am 100 per cent right. Just to hear that from someone like Caroline fills you with confidence. She is brilliant in that way.”
The brotherhood which exists in hurling is illustrated by Gillane’s reaction to Richie Hogan’s equalising point, coming down the stretch in the All-Ireland final.
“Strangely enough, my first reaction was that I was kind of happy for Richie Hogan. After an awful run with injuries it was his first championship appearance of the year. Fair play to him, you couldn’t but be happy for him. Loads of us on the Limerick panel grew up watching him over the years, when he was absolutely flying.
“Obviously he had put in a lot of hard work during the years, so it’s good to see him back. We knew when he came on he was capable of hurting us. When he levelled the match, it was a case of just staying clued in, sticking to what we have been doing for the last few years. There is no point in changing. We know what we are good at.”
Despite a few uncomfortable minutes near the end, Limerick did see out the match. But Gillane does not subscribe to the theory that their ability to finish strongly — they also beat Galway and Clare in tight finishes in the All-Ireland semi-final and Munster final respectively — is down to being better conditioned than their rivals.
“Everybody involved in inter-county hurling now trains very hard and makes all the sacrifices. So, everybody’s fitness levels are high. We wouldn’t especially focus on seeing out matches. We try to keep it as simple as possible. One thing we would focus on is doing what we are supposed to be doing, and focusing on our game plan. I suppose any time we are in a bit of bother is when we sway away from our game plan and do what we don’t usually do.
“What sees us over the line is the tried and tested and what has worked for us over the last few years. So, there is no point in veering away from it.”
Gillane, who works in the Limerick office of the Azon Recruitment Group, knows the fans are already talking about the odds on Limerick equalling the achievement of the legendary Kilkenny team managed by Brian Cody, which won four All-Ireland titles on the spin between 2006 and 2009.
“Of course, the fans are entitled to be excited. But within the group itself there is no chat like that. Even this year, the three-in-row was never mentioned.”
Though Limerick are now at the summit of hurling, he knows what the lean years were like. He teases his Patrickswell clubmate and close friend Brian Murray that his first memory of Croke Park is seeing Henry Shefflin bat the sliotar over Murray’s head and into the Limerick net in the 2007 All-Ireland final.
So, he knows how special these years are.
Aaron Gillane was speaking in Croke Park to celebrate that Littlewoods Ireland has rebranded to Very.