‘We don’t allow those narratives into our thinking, they’re not real’ – insists Limerick manager John Kiely regarding outside noise

Limerick manager John Kiely is only focused on his side, not the opinions of others. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Michael Verney

Most people have a soft spot for the underdog, but the wheel can often turn in the opposite direction if they become the top dog, and that’s something which John Kiely has become accustomed to as Limerick hurling boss.

Goodwill was coming from every direction towards the Treaty when a 45-year All-Ireland SHC famine was ended in 2018 – but, as is often the case, the public mood can shift significantly as time passes by.

Think of Clare in the ’90s when they went from family favourites to public enemies as they accumulated success, and that’s something which Kiely has gotten used to.

Be it the narrative of them playing on the edge or the social-media glare on certain players, the All-Ireland four-in-a-row hopefuls face a scrutiny that only winners generate.

It is rife this week, in particular, on the eve of a do-or-die Munster SHC clash against Tipperary, with unfounded rumours that all is not rosy in the Limerick garden, but Kiely feels that any resentment towards them is only natural.

“That’s human nature, isn’t it?” Kiely said at the launch of The Dillon Quirke Foundation fundraising drive. “Of course it is. There is nothing surprising in that, it is just human nature. We were very grateful for the support when we had it!”

It is put to Kiely that their cloak of invincibility has slipped greatly in the wake of their recent defeat to Clare – their first championship loss in four years – but he doesn’t buy that it ever existed, despite all of their dominance.

“That aura mightn’t be necessarily held in the opposition camps. I don’t think that exists in the other camps,” the Galbally clubman said before expanding on his point.

“Every day you go to play a hurling match, nobody would play it if they didn’t think they were going to win it. So, every team that plays us I am sure believes that they are going to get a result. The Munster Championship is very competitive,” Kiely acknowledged.

“It is extraordinarily competitive for every point you can get on the board. Our focus now is to see where the next two points are available and get ourselves ready for that. We will be doing absolutely everything in our power to earn those next two points.”

Some are prematurely writing Limerick’s epitaph – especially after the long-term absence of defender Seán Finn due to a cruciate knee ligament injury suffered against the Banner – but the reaction to their last defeat must be heeded.

That shock 2019 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny was followed by a 17-game unbeaten streak in the championship before the one-point reversal to Clare last month, and they have proven their ability to react to adversity in sensational fashion.

Keeping a lid on expectation has been crucial to that and blocking out the noise is paramount for Kiely.

“We focus on different things. We are more performance-orientated. Thinking about what we are going after each Sunday. We don’t allow those narratives to come into our thinking because they are not real. They are just perceptions, opinions and speculation,” he said.

“They don’t mean anything really when you are in a battle and need to win a puck-out and get some dirty ball. It doesn’t mean any difference; you have to fight for every single ball, every score; that’s where our focus is.”

An extraordinary bunch of players, who are forging their own path to immortality, are central to that.

“You won’t find a more humble bunch of guys. They are extremely humble. They are very much aware of the need to perform to a certain level in order to be successful – and if you don’t, you won’t,” Kiely remarked.

“That’s the reality of it; we have had a real dose of reality the last few days (in the wake of the Clare defeat), so we have to absorb that, process that and get going again.”

As principal of The Abbey School in Tipp town, the friendly jibes are sure to be fired at Kiely around the corridors this week as Limerick bid to get their season back on track with the pressure mounting on them.