Tuesday 20 March 2018

Allen happy to plot Rebels' downfall

Limerick boss admits 'whole life built around Cork hurling', but he is gunning for them now, writes Jackie Cahill

Limerick manager John Allen during training ahead of their Munster SHC final against Cork
Limerick manager John Allen during training ahead of their Munster SHC final against Cork

Jackie Cahill

HE was the mastermind behind Cork's last All-Ireland hurling success, but John Allen doesn't believe that he'll be returning to manage his native county any time soon.

In fact, Allen believes that he "probably wouldn't be getting the Cork job again too easily."

While he doesn't elaborate on the exact reasons why he thinks like that, Allen recognised that if he wanted to stay involved in inter-county management, he had to peer over Rebel walls. That's why the chance to succeed Donal O'Grady as Limerick supremo, in October 2011, was too good to resist.

There was previous there, of course, as Allen slipped seamlessly into the Cork role vacated by O'Grady following the 2004 All-Ireland success.

Cork retained the title in 2005 and hopes were high of a three-in-a-row 12 months later. But Allen's first championship defeat in 10 games at the helm came against Kilkenny in the 2006 final and he exited stage left, with typical good grace and an absence of fanfare.


His subsequent columns in a national newspaper were often quirky but symptomatic of a deep thinker.

And while managing Limerick over the past two seasons has sometimes been a struggle, progress has been evident. Limerick contested a National League Division 1B final last year and while they lost to Clare, championship performances that followed were most encouraging.

They lost by four points to Tipp in Munster, having led by five with 20 minutes remaining, before recovering to win three championship games in a season for the first time since 2009.

Limerick bagged a combined total of 14-47 in two qualifier outings against Laois and Antrim before gaining revenge for that league final reverse against Clare with a four-point win.

The Shannonsiders bowed out of the championship for the second successive season at the quarter-final stage but with heads held high as Kilkenny were made to work desperately hard for a flattering nine-point success.

Seamus Hickey, who made his debut in 2006, remarked at the pre-Munster final press day that he'd never felt as excited before a new season as this one.

Allen is a big part of the reason for that and after the Munster semi-final victory over Tipperary, which was not the great shock that it's been perceived as by so many, Donal Og Cusack uttered a short statement that may have come as a surprise to those who don't know Allen, but not to those who do.

Speaking on 'The Sunday Game', Cusack revealed: "I've worked with a lot of psychologists and mind coaches down the years, I've never met a guy who was better able to mentally prepare a team than John Allen."

Players speak about how Allen rarely, if ever, loses the head.

Allen has been known to move a player to a different position if he isn't happy with how he's performing in his regular role. The implicit nature of the switch lets the player know immediately that he's under scrutiny and the power is back in his hands.

But the proof of Allen's pudding is in the eating and Limerick expects next Sunday. It's the Gaelic Grounds, it's Munster final Sunday and the county has been alive with talk of 1996.

It just so happens that it's Cork providing the final opposition, and he remembers 2006, when he was on the other side of the fence and Limerick lost an All-Ireland quarter-final by 0-19 to 0-18 in Thurles. "It was an extremely tense game that went down to the wire," Allen recalls. "We won by a point and Limerick were very physical."

Allen is aware of the spotlight that's on him. The Corkman in charge of Limerick, against Cork. "It is strange," he concedes.

"Growing up in Cork, playing for Cork and ending up involved in management, your whole life has been built around Cork hurling.

"I have no doubt I probably wouldn't be getting the Cork job again too easily, so if I wanted to be involved in inter-county management..."

And Limerick suits him in many ways. He doesn't live there and is not swimming in the goldfish bowl. It's possible to dip in and out but at home, he can't avoid Munster final talk.

"I live in Cork and I can't get away from it every day no matter where I go," Allen says. "I'm getting lovely comments from people who know a bit about the game and want to talk about it. It is strange, no doubt about it."

The physical and emotional bonds with Cork remain strong. And they didn't stop him cheering for Cork against Clare in the other Munster semi-final.

"Of course," he smiles. "You're there looking to see who you're playing next, what they are going to be like and hoping to undo their plan for the next day."

Allen has a plan too. Against Tipperary, direct hurling worked a treat but Limerick also brought massive aggression levels and when it boiled down to a battle, there would only be one winner.

"It's about managing to get the most out of your team on the day," Allen explains. "That's the big thing really. There will be a lot of hype before the game. I presume it will be a sell-out and trying to get your team to play the match rather than the occasion is the key for both managers."

If Cusack is right, Limerick are in safe hands.

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