John Kiely: Second All-Ireland gives Limerick players ‘sense of freedom’ for future years

Kiely says the memory of Limerick’s difficult 2017 season continues to inspire the group and drive them on
John Kiely: Second All-Ireland gives Limerick players 'sense of freedom' for future years

John Kiely has admitted that taking just two seasons to back up the breakthrough All-Ireland win of 2018 with Limerick was “hugely satisfying”.

Kiely guided the Shannonsiders to their first MacCarthy Cup success in 45 years in 2018 and required just 28 more months to repeat the feat.

It was all the more impressive in 2020 as Limerick won all of their games in the entire calendar year, picking up four separate titles.

Speaking on Limerick City Community Radio’s¬†What’s The Score? – Extra¬†podcast, Kiely agreed that backing up their 2018 win in a relatively short space of time was a significant achievement.

“I think you’re right, winning a second All-Ireland is hugely satisfying,” said Kiely. “To do it so soon after the first, we could have spent years chasing it and maybe never gotten it. To have gotten that second one after 24 months is just a fantastic achievement for the lads.

I think that gives them a little sense of freedom, if you like, going forward. There’s no reason why they can’t be competitive and giving themselves at least another chance in the next year or two to get to a semi-final, to maybe get to a final again.

“It’s all about giving yourself opportunities and giving yourself chances in sport. You can never say for certain that you’re going to be there but if you give yourself chances you will take some of those chances.

“I think that’s been borne out over the last number of years. We’ve given ourselves some chances, we haven’t taken them all but we’ve taken a good few. The more we’ll take, the better maybe we’ll get at taking them too.”

After Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, school principal Kiely is the joint second longest-serving manager in the MacCarthy Cup, alongside Davy Fitzgerald in Wexford.

The former underage manager’s senior reign started with a relatively poor 2017 campaign that included a 7-22 to 1-19 pre-season defeat to Cork, when Limerick players were heckled by irate supporters.

Limerick finished that 2017 campaign with a mere 50% win rate from 14 competitive games compared to last season’s 100% win rate from 13 matches.

The improvement post-2017 has been remarkable with Kiely presiding over 47 competitive games between 2018 and 2020 and returning the following results; 38 wins, 7 defeats, and 2 draws, a much healthier 81% win rate which has yielded eight trophies.

Kiely said that the memory of that difficult 2017 season continues to inspire the group and drive them on.

“The very first year, I think we found that it was so difficult to win any games, back in 2017,” he said.

“We played two Championship matches and lost them both, one against Clare over in Thurles which was a quite inept performance. It was a better performance against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park but we still came out the loser on the night.

“In the League, we struggled from the get-go, we got beaten by Wexford in Wexford in a game that we should have won, and subsequent to that, we just didn’t perform to the levels that are required.

That was a harsh learning ground, that first year. The imprint that that first year has had on us has never been lost on us. Our memories are very strong, we can remember those days very clearly and they’re something that we don’t ever want to go back to.”

Kiely said that the versatility of his team and the players’ ability to switch between the lines and perform in different positions was crucial during 2020.

He said that they ‘didn’t panic’ when hit with significant blows like Shane Dowling’s retirement and the knee injuries that curtailed defenders Richie English and Mike Casey’s involvement.

“To be fair, Dan Morrissey and Barry Nash were asked to take up their positions and did so in a really, really impressive way,” said Kiely.

“They brought their own stamp to those positions. Dan was commanding, powerful, direct, just so accurate in what he was doing. He hardly made a mistake from the minute he went in there.

“Barry just brought…his real strengths are his ball-handling, his ball-striking, his speed, his vision, they brought their skill sets and the strengths of their skill sets to play in those positions.

“They didn’t try to play the position like somebody else, they played it the way they saw it. I think that was a very commendable achievement on their part, it really was. It was huge for the team and they did it so well, so quietly.

“Outside of that, Kyle came back into the half-back line, Barry and Dan had both been sharing that position in the left half-back berth for a period of time before that. When Kyle came back there, just like the two boys, he brought his own dimension to the position, his speed, his strength, his directness, his athleticism, and that caused all sorts of problems down the other end of the field.

“He took a while to settle in but once he did he was away for slates.