Friday 27 April 2018

I'm not a natural forward – Hickey

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Coming away from Thurles last July after Limerick's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kilkenny, Seamus Hickey felt he should have been more disappointed than he was.

Caught by a rush of Kilkenny goals when it looked like they had a firm grip on the throat of the champions, it felt like an opportunity lost.

But for Hickey, it felt like a beginning rather than an end.

"As much as it hurt, I just couldn't wait to get back training for this year. It's great being in around these players," he said.

On a personal level, 2012 had slipped by Hickey all too quickly as he missed the initial part of the season due an internship in the USA before returning and fracturing an elbow prior to the championship.

It kept him out of action for two months but a couple of appearances as a substitute fuelled his desire for more.

Immersed

This season, Hickey has found himself more deeply immersed than he might have expected back in July.

His positioning at centre-forward for all four of Limerick's Division 1B games – against Carlow, Offaly, Dublin and Antrim – has transpired for a few reasons.

Missing out on 2012 pushed him down the pecking order and, with defence and midfield consolidating their places, No 11 was one of the few available positions that opened up.

Manager John Allen sensed that an attack with so much flourishing talent required a strong foundation with energy and attitude to pin them together.

"As we know work rate and physicality have overtaken skill now and Seamus brings that to the position," reflected Allen.

"The six backs who played throughout last year's championship are all still in pole position, all playing well, and we have a number of other backs who have come in and are showing up well in training.

"We have our midfield from last year, plus Paul Browne, who was injured towards the end of he year.

"So it was a case of trying to find a place for someone as good as Seamus and we just felt we'd have a cut at him at centre-forward.

"The debate is always there about making a forward out of a back but so far so good, his work rate is phenomenal, he has energy and pace.

"He brings a huge amount to the training and the whole dynamic of the thing because he is very positive."

Allen has form in that regard. As a selector with Cork in 2004 when Brian Corcoran made his return to inter-county hurling after nearly three years in exile, he understands the value of a pillar figure in a central position.

He also notes how Ollie Moran's conversion from half-back to half-forward brought him an All Star in 2007.

Hickey was a rookie corner-back then but has grown in stature to fill a variety of positions in the intervening years, including a profitable spell as a midfielder in 2009.

By his own admission, he is out of his comfort zone at centre-forward but he insists that he is enjoying it nonetheless.

"I'm not a natural forward but I'm prepared to take a good share of the workload there and try to create the opportunities for the younger players around me," he said.

"I suppose one of the things that the management would recognise about me is work rate. I'd always have covered the ground."

Hickey can't hide his enthusiasm for the squad Limerick are putting together and the sense that the Munster championship could be the most open for years.

"Our depth this year is fantastic. It's the first time in my time that I really feel there is serious competition for places. There is great talent there and it's an exciting time to be a Limerick hurler," he said.

"I feel I'm breaking myself just to keep pace with these forwards, and the three more to come on are just as talented."

Much of the enthusiasm stems from the potential in Declan Hannon and Shane Dowling, two of the stellar Ardscoil Ris cast, but the return to full health of Conor Allis, Browne and Kevin Downes adds greatly to Limerick's potential cutting edge.

Hickey looks back at the Kilkenny defeat last July and puts it down to experience.

Critical

"I don't think there was a lot more to it. They got the goals, as they do, at critical times but we were right in it until the last 10 minutes," he said.

"Looking at the league match in Ennis last week you could say the same thing. Clare had opportunities but Kilkenny got the goals. In both matches Kilkenny could have been beaten.

"We haven't set the world alight but it's taking time for the changes to bed down."

The victories over Antrim and Carlow were a struggle but against Dublin in Croke Park, Hickey feels they showed the right attitude.

"We were patient that evening. That's what I felt most about it. We found a way to get back into that game and hurled really well at times," he reflected.

Ahead of their final group game against Wexford this weekend Hickey feels the time is right to make the leap up to Division 1A hurling.

"We've been to the last two second tier league finals but we still haven't got there," he said.

"We genuinely think we are good enough to do it."

Irish Independent

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