No team stays on top forever... no one is immortal – Hickey
Limerick star believes John Allen's men can follow the lead of Donegal in their bid to finally bring back the glory days
IT was October 2010 when the letter slipped through Seamus Hickey's letterbox. Enclosed was an invitation from Limerick's then new manager Donal O'Grady to attend pre-season trials. Here was Hickey's chance to fall in love with hurling all over again.
He'd spent the summer in Boston instead of playing for the county. An indirect victim of the infamous Justin McCarthy cull in late 2009, Hickey walked when a number of his colleagues were discarded. An all-or-nothing type of guy, and deeply analytical by his own admission, Hickey felt that he had no other choice.
"Over-analytical. I would have no problem saying it," smiles the 25-year-old. "I am from an engineering background so you question everything and ask why."
He probably still wonders why McCarthy stomped all over careers and reputations in the manner in which he did, particularly after contesting an All-Ireland semi-final. But after Limerick were trampled into the ground by Tipperary at Croke Park, McCarthy decided to take a cudgel to the panel. The consequences were devastating but Hickey is reluctant to revisit dark days.
No point, he insists, when the wheel has come full circle. His role has changed too as he's now firmly entrenched in the Limerick half-forward line, having made his name as a nomadic sort of defender.
"I think enough has been said on that (McCarthy era) over the last few years and by bringing it back up again seems out of context," reflects the 2007 Young Hurler of the Year. "Especially with what is going on at the moment."
Hickey's asked if he feels a certain sense of affinity with the Donegal footballers, who were a caricature of poor discipline until Jim McGuinness whipped them into shape in 2011. And on this point, he's happy to elaborate.
"I can see the resemblances in isolated incidents being touted as the norm," Hickey accepts. "It was this kind of thing, especially the drinking culture in Limerick – that I took massive umbrage with.
"I don't drink. I don't mind people knowing it. I am very happy and comfortable with myself with that. But to be out on a Friday night and to be told after that Seamus was out langers, that sort of stuff annoys me.
"People saw you and it's a lazy attachment that people make between you and someone else. Some of the Limerick lads back then really suffered just from being fun people. Some of my best friends suffered from lazy stereotypes.
"Did we do everything right? No. I fully put up my hand and say that as Limerick fellas, and Limerick hurlers, were there times when we could have kept our heads down better? Yeah, definitely."
Hickey remains a wonderfully engaging interviewee. He is reminded of 2007, when he spoke freely and honestly at Adare Manor at the All-Ireland final press day. Too open at the time, he says now.
Back then, Hickey was still a teenager and happy to ride the crest of a wave. Fuelled by the fearlessness of youth – "being goofy and just out of school" – he liked the attention. But when Kilkenny won the final and the calls dried up and the lights dimmed, Hickey felt the suck of a vacuum.
"The hard realisation was unfulfilled potential and the realisation that talent isn't enough," says the Murroe-Boher native.
"You see, I was nearly overly comfortable and I have no problem saying that. I was very open, saying exactly what was on the tip of my mind without even thinking it through.
"Looking back, I learned an awful lot from the experience of being in the spotlight for a while and how it can affect you positively and negatively."
While Hickey admits that he was mortified to read back some of his comments in print afterwards, he views his relationship with the media in a hugely positive light. Almost six years ago, journalists realised that Hickey was young and prone to the over-transparency that he referenced himself. And so they looked after him, he appreciated it and he regards the trade-off – his time for column inches – as mutually beneficial.
"Especially for players when jobs are hard to come by," he adds. "If you have a presence out there that people recognise as being amicable, well spoken, easy to deal with, I think it will stand to you in the long run in a few different walks of life.
"If those people can respect you for how you conducted yourself in such a wide forum, they will be able to see benefits in a smaller forum or even in their business."
Hickey's a patient type of guy too. He won two Harty Cup medals at St Flannan's but it took him five attempts before he landed the Fitzgibbon Cup with University of Limerick. And it was 2011 before he won a medal of any description hurling with the county, when O'Grady masterminded Division 2 league success. They've since contested two All-Ireland quarter-finals and are now back in their irst provincial final since 2007. Hickey is loving the feeling of deja vu as he prepares for the showdown with Cork.
"I knew we'd be back," he says. "When people say to you (that) you only had one Munster final appearance in 2007 and were you shocked that you didn't get back – I was shocked that we didn't get back because I didn't see it as a flash in the pan in 2007, and I suppose that's a player's perspective. I thought we had had the talent to go on.
"Time is cyclical and these things come around. The worries and the cries for change when things weren't going right, I understand them but you give things time to work themselves out. No team is immortal and no team stays at the top forever. And no team will stay at the bottom forever."
Limerick and Seamus Hickey, from where they've come from, are living proof of that.