Hannon determined to make up for lost time:

By John Harrington

Declan Hannon didn’t feel like an All-Ireland winner in 2023.

A knee injury ruled the Limerick captain out of the All-Ireland semi-final and final, so he doesn’t really think that it counts the same as the previous four times he was part of All-Ireland winning seasons with the Shannonsiders.

“You would feel like that a bit, yeah,” he admits. “You want to be involved, like. And if you’re not even able to tog out you’re kind of sitting there thinking, ‘am I in the way?’ You’re in the dressing-room standing there and thinking, ‘am I win the way here like? I need to get out of the way and let the lads get ready for the match’.

“We had experience the year before of lads having injuries in key parts. Then last year Seanie Finn did his cruciate, Jimmy Quility did his cruciate, Richie English did his cruciate so there was a bunch there that were in the same boat so we could look at each other and start crying or something! At least there was someone else there in the same scenario which probably made it a little bit easier I think.

“Again, Limerick getting to All-Ireland Finals doesn’t happen every year. If you look back over the years it’s fairly rare. So that’s the other thing, when you get there you want to be involved. Look, that’s sport, it’s part of it. You take the good and the bad.”

Hannon’s knee injury ended up taking longer to rehabilitate than he originally expected and he didn’t feature for Limerick until Round 5 of this year’s League against Galway.

Almost nine months on the sideline whetted his appetite for a long-awaited return to action.

“The last game I played was the Munster final and since then nothing (up to the league). It’s a long time waiting to get back and you’re training away and through the slog of January, February and March.

“You’re still slogging away with the weather the way it’s been over the last while. You’re kind of like a young fella again that you’ve been missing for so long that you’re looking forward to get involved whether that’s a full game or whatever it is.

“Yeah, very much looking forward. It’s like a new lease of life when you’ve missed out on that amount of game time especially when it was last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and final. They’re the games you want to be involved in and missing them is hard. Yeah, a new sense of energy coming into it.”

The energy was there but, by his own admission, the match sharpness was not as Limerick drew with Galway on his return to the team and were then taken apart by Kilkenny in the League semi-final.

“Yeah, it probably took a bit of time to get into it like,” he says.

“You obviously went from the Munster final last year, missed a lot, went back with the club, then came back a bit later in the year to the League.

“Trying to get up to the speed, your match sharpness, touch and everything like that, it takes a bit of time.

“Some players seem to be very good at missing a period and seamlessly getting back into it. I find it a bit more difficult to be honest.

“But look I got the bones of 70 minutes under my belt. I was happy enough with it in that sense.

“Obviously disappointed with the result but to get a bit of that into the legs is positive.”

So what should we make of Limerick’s defeat to Kilkenny in that semi-final when they coughed up a series of goal-chances and were decidedly second-best.

Because it was such a rare sight it’s tempting to write it off as a freak aberration rather than a performance that suggests there are any serious engine issues with the Limerick machine.

The team management and players weren’t willing to do that though and Hannon admits there was a “tough video analysis session” afterwards that he hopes won’t have to be repeated.

“We were very disappointed in terms of our performance but Kilkenny were by far the better team on the night and probably should have beaten us by more,” he says.

“They created a massive amount of goal chances, which we would be really disappointed with as well so loads for us to work on especially when it’s a semi-final.

“You want to win every game but when it’s a knock-out game and that close to a final you want to get there, especially when it’s a national title you could be competing for.

“We were down after, we were disappointed but the other side of it is championship is coming around the corner and you haven’t much time to be worrying about that.

“You have to move on quickly enough and get back on the pitch and get ready for Ennis on the 21st. Since then we’ve trained really well. Lads seem to be in good old nick and good old form and very much looking forward to the start of the championship.”

We’ll quickly find out if that defensive melt-down against Kilkenny in that league semi-final was a once-off or suggestive of some cracks that might be exposed again.

The crucible of the Munster Hurling Championship will quickly expose any flaws, particularly when the first test is against a Clare team that has troubled Limerick more than any other county in the last couple of years.

Were they to lose against the League champions they’d have a seven-day turnaround to a second-round clash against a Tipperary team that would be fully rested, so Hannon doesn’t need to be told that Limerick need to be ready to hit the ground running.

“Absolutely,” he says. “Look, it’s the same as the last couple of years with the round robin system when it came in.

“We know Munster is so, so tough, especially the first game, it is very important to get a result.

“Obviously a loss puts you on the back foot immediately and then you’d have Tipperary the weekend after who’d be licking their lips saying we could really put a dent in Limerick’s championship hopes here if we can get one over on ‘em.

“Like, similar to last year, we were very close to being knocked out of the Championship in Munster. We beat Cork by a point in the Gaelic Grounds.

“If the results had went the other way we were finished.

“Obviously we went on to get to the Munster final and the All-Ireland so it’s very small margins.

“But it’s brilliant like. I think the Munster Championship is fantastic. For a neutral it must be brilliant to watch.

“For a player it’s a bit more stressful than that. It’s great. This is why we play. You wanted to be tested against the best. Clare are the form team at the minute. We’ll be putting ourselves up against the very best in the first round.”