Limerick hurlers’ kit man tells story of run up to All-Ireland final:

AFTER another magnificent performance in the semi-final against Galway, Limerick’s attention turned to an All-Ireland hurling final against Kilkenny in a repeat of last year.

With the very short run into it, there wasn’t much time to waste preparing for it as it was only two weeks. That feeling of being in an All-Ireland final is one of excitement, giddiness and looking forward to one of the biggest sporting days in Ireland.
After winning the last three All-Ireland titles, you would swear Limerick had never won one – the team were focused and treating it as if it was their first.

The only mention of a four-in-a-row was the Limerick Leader’s headline the week of the final “Go ‘Fourth’ and Conquer”.

That was the time it sunk in and suddenly the importance of the occasion hit home, the historic nature that this team could go on and create its own history by becoming only the third county to win four All-Ireland hurling titles in-a-row.

Friday, July 14

Training had gone well the week after the semi-final but it was the Friday night a week out from the final that I’ll never forget. When the session had finished, John gathered us all round in a circle and delivered the shocking news that Richie English and Jimmy Quilty had suffered long-term injuries. John spoke so passionately about them and the disappointment for them, plus their families, but also for Declan Hannon and Sean Finn. It was a tough moment but one thing is for sure – the guys that would be lining out are the guys you want in the trenches with you, they would die for one another.
Experience, familiarity and “been there done that” is a great trajectory for these big occasions and to have Caroline Currid takes the pressure off and the transition to the final seems seamless – she is just the ultimate professional. All the outside preparations are now in place and there are no distractions leading up to the big day.

Week of the All-Ireland final

I’m thinking about it more now and putting away bits and pieces. All the talk at work with Limerick City and County Council is about the match with colleagues enquiring how things are going and wishing you the best.

It was on Tuesday that an email circulated asking everyone to wear green the following day for a photoshoot in Merchant’s Quay and County Hall with Mayor Gerald Mitchell. There was great banter and you get the feeling from the supporters of how much it means to them, the whole occasion, the travelling up and for some still on the search for that golden ticket.

I decided to visit my sister Catherine in St Vincent’s, Lisnagry. I must heap the world of praise on the staff there. For every match they have Catherine dressed in the Limerick jersey and sitting in front of the TV. Of course with staff nurse Fiona Clohessy, a name steeped in Limerick GAA, everything pauses for that hour and a half.

As I was leaving the building I was walking towards a framed signed Limerick jersey from 2018. I stopped and looked at it. I read the names and got a sense of pride with the fact that you are part of this Limerick hurling renaissance.

That evening I called to St Anthony’s Nursing Home in Pallasgreen to collect a book of messages from the residents wishing the team the best of luck.

They titled it The Hurling Book of Wisdom according to St Anthony. It was an inspirational project with wonderful and witty messages from the residents, some in their 80s and 90s. I gave it to John Kiely the following night at training and he was fascinated by it.

My last day at work before the match. At coffee break I went into the Crescent Shopping Centre and you could feel the match atmosphere building as loads of Limerick jerseys were on display on children and adults. I left at 4.30pm for our last training session, got there for about 4.50pm and was setting up for the session, knowing it wasn’t going to be a particularly long one but it certainly was an important one.

All last minute preparations were gone over – logistics with Conor McCarthy and Eibhear O’Dea, nutritionist Eoin Murray and, of course, Caroline overseeing that everything is in order. The session went well – the last team huddle, team named and next stop was Croke Park.

It wasn’t the ideal day with the weather not very favourable but you have to get on with it and get the van ready. I start off with Nickie’s bag, put in a towel, sliotars and a water bottle. From there on it’s the hurley bags, sideline bag, drinks, sliotars, towels, basically everything that’s required for the day from start to finish.

That evening as I was about to go to Mass, Garry and Dara Fraher arrived to deliver a best of luck card from their son Jack. Jack has given me a card for every All-Ireland final. It is like a lucky charm and straight away I put it into my gear bag to have it in Croke Park.

I went to 6pm Mass and Fr Tomas O’Connell wished everyone travelling a safe and enjoyable day and the team the very best of luck. On leaving the church people were wishing me the best of luck and I’m slightly embarrassed.

I got to the sanctuary of home and even though I knew the van was ready, I had another look for reassurance. I always keep the two sets of jerseys in the house and won’t put them in the van until the morning. The last thing to do was to rinse the towels to be iced in the morning. I Watched Up For the Match and hit the hay.

With the earlier time of 3.30pm for throw-in I was up early and sorted the iced towels. With everything now in the van, the two sets of jerseys were last in. I left the house at 7.45am and hit for Cashel, I always travel that way going to Dublin. As I went through Cashel something in my head was wondering ‘did I leave something out?’ I stopped outside the town and had a look in the van.

I was happy enough that I had everything, and, conscious of time, I said I’ll get a breakfast in the Portlaoise Plaza just like for the Galway game. I arrived at 9am and couldn’t get over the crowd of Limerick fans inside.

I left for Junction 14 thinking it might be quieter but, unfortunately, the quest to fill my empty stomach had to go on for a little longer. I ended up at a filling station just outside Dublin and a small breakfast roll with coffee, met a few Doon lads and also Brendan Cummins.

Thankfully, now I was ready and made my journey towards the M50 and for St Aidan’s school near DCU. This is where the team is based for the pre-match and not too far from Croke Park.

I arrived there and met with Tony, the caretaker, and whatever was needed was brought in. I left St Aidan’s at 10.45am and passed the landmarks on the way including the Skyline Hotel, Fagan’s in Drumcondra and the sea of green and white along the route.

Turning onto Clonliffe Road, a very nice garda pulled back the barrier and wished me the best of luck. I drove straight under the Hogan Stand to our dressing room (number two), a lucky one for us, and parked up ready to off load the necessary equipment and items to help in securing Limerick’s twelfth All-Ireland title.

As I was going into the dressing room I noticed a cable along the floor leading into the room, then I saw all the electronics in the corner and suddenly realised that RTE’s The Sunday Game were getting ready for a segment from the room.

County board secretary Mike O’Riordan had informed me during the week so there was a bit of a spurt on to have it ready for them. As I was coming in and out of the dressing room I happened to meet GAA President Larry McCarthy outside and he came over, shook my hand and said “If ye win, I’ll see ye in the Woodlands House Hotel tonight”.

I replied, “Larry, when we win” and with that I glanced to dressing room one and the great Denis (Rackard) Cody, the Kilkenny kitman. We exchanged pleasantries and after a brief chat we wished each other the best of luck.

After getting the room set up, the RTE crew came in, and what struck me was the entourage of people behind the scenes making these programmes happen.

Then, in walked three hurling legends – Dónal Óg Cusack, Liam Sheedy and Anthony Daly – who were impressed by the set-up, and not too long after them came Joanne Cantwell. After a bit of banter and a few takes, the floor manager wrapped it up. I was delighted to meet the three GAA legends and Joanne who were all very generous with their time.

With the TV sideshow over, the serious work began. The stats team arrived and our wonderful friend Ollie, the dressing room caretaker came in.

Time was going fast so I decided to have a walk out to the pitch. The rain was still coming down but not as heavy and the pitch looked immaculate, like a billiard table. The crowd were filing into their seats and the pre-match entertainment was about to strike up.

Everything was now ready for the team, the bus arrived and out stepped John and the team to get ready for battle. With everything sorted and said, the team ran through the flag bearers and out into the Colosseum to a crescendo of noise.

The warm-up went well which is always a good sign and then the protocols – meeting the GAA president this time instead of Michael D, handshakes and then marching behind the Artane Band.

I don’t think there is any other sporting occasion to match it! It’s something special. The ball is thrown in on the manicured turf and 70 minutes later, after a pulsating game, Limerick make history and the four-in-a-row title is secured.

The party begins. The Cranberries’ Dreams rings out around Croke Park as well as the song, What Do You Want To Know?

Questions posed by Limerick Leader reporter Donal O’Regan