Limerick hurling’s rising stars have learned the value of patience:
By John Harrington
One of the most remarkable aspects of Limerick’s four-in-row of All-Ireland senior hurling titles is that the team has remained relatively unchanged throughout it.
A total of just 18 players have started All-Ireland Finals in those four years, and it would have been even less had key figures like Declan Hannon, Sean Finn, and Cian Lynch not missed Finals through injury.
Usually for a team to be successful over a long period of time there’s a steady overhaul of personnel to keep it fresh and prevent standards slipping, but that hasn’t happened with Limerick.
Indeed, only an additional eight players have featured as substitutes in All-Ireland Finals, and seven of those came on with 10 minutes of normal time or less to play in the match.
Colin Coughlan falls into that category, coming on as a sub after 65 minutes of the 2021 All-Ireland Final when he was just 19 years of age.
Since then he’s remained a valued member of the panel, but he has yet to really establish himself on the starting XV, and made just two appearances in the 2023 Championship, both as substitutes.
Such is the quality of the more established players in the panel and their still relatively youthful age-profile, that rising stars like Coughlan, Cathal O’Neill, and Adam English are having to serve a longer apprenticeship than they arguably would were they playing for any other county.
The Ballybrown clubman knows it’s going to be difficult for him and his peers to force their way past team-mates still very much at the peak of their powers, but he’s determined to give John Kiely some selection headaches in 2024.
“There was three of us (Coughlan, O’Neill, and English) that came on in this year’s Munster Final and we were all under the age of 21,” says Coughlan.
“We are starting to punch our holes a small bit but as long as we can keep driving and keep pushing forward, that’s the main thing I suppose.
“We think where these boys were when they were 21. A good few of them only got called into the panel at the age of 21 and look what they have achieved since then.
“So I suppose hopefully we will just keep the heads down and keep going.
“There is a lot of patience but it’s just something that we have in the environment at the moment. It’s just instilled in the group.
“It’s just the basis of what we do. It’s just patience and everyone gives everything. John or even the boys that do interviews after the game they always refer to the group as one and how important the group is.
“We take great satisfaction from that and that gives us that bit of extra patience to keep going and keep being patient and trying harder again.”
Coughlan’s development would surely be accelerated with more consistent game-time in the Championship, but you can understand John Kiely’s dilemma.
Half-backs like Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, and Kyle Hayes are all generational talents and as long as they continue to hurl to their full potential then its difficult to justify giving putting Coughlan into the team ahead of any of them.
“It’s not easy of course,” he admits himself. “At the moment we have 14, 15, 16 players there that have numerous All Stars over the last four or five years.
“So again, it’s just try and grasp every opportunity you can and even in training, just keep driving things forwards.
“You have to adopt the mindset that sometimes maybe you are not getting game time, but if you do what you can do in training and you see the boys in your position are driving it on, on the field, you have to take satisfaction from that.
“That you are contributing to that as much as they are. I suppose it’s all just getting the right mindset and not getting a bit sour, or getting this and that and the other.
“The big thing we talk about is that everyone wants to go the same way and everyone wants to drive forwards.”
Limerick’s starting XV hasn’t changed much in recent years, but John Kiely has regularly shuffled the deck in his management team and has done so again for 2024.
Joe O’Connor will return to the fold as high performances manager, and John Flavin has also been added to the coaching ticket.
Caroline Currid has stepped away as the team sports psychologist, which looks like a big loss considering her record of success and the esteem in which she was held by everyone in the group.
“Ah look, there is always going to be change in every walk of life,” says Coughlan. “Stuff is going to change.
“As long as everyone there are, at the moment is thinking in the same way and everyone wants to move forward there should be no issues at all.
“Obviously we lost Caroline this year and she will be a huge loss. She has been fantastic for us over the last seven years.
“Everything she has done with us will stick with us and we will just carry it on, to bring that through.
“Of course we are very excited, we have John Flavin in as a selector and Joe O’Connor in as the ‘Performance Manager.’
“We are very excited to get going with them. I wasn’t involved in the previous panel; when Joe was there before.
“So I am particularly looking forward to getting involved and seeing what Joe has to bring to the table.”
From the first match they play in 2024, the consistent narrative around this Limerick team will be whether they can become the first in the history of the game to win five All-Ireland titles in a row.
Coughlan knows there will be a lot of background noise, but he doesn’t think it’ll distract the group.
“Whether you discuss it or whether you don’t, the media are going to drive it up to be a thing anyway.
“So I suppose it’s just trying to make it a thing where you keep doing what we have been doing over the past six years you could say, where we have won five of the last six, just keep doing what we’re doing.
“Trying to eliminate as much as possible that outside noise and to be able to try and check ourselves and make note of ourselves if we do start to slip or our ways change a small bit that we are able to bring ourselves back on track.
“I suppose you could discuss it or you could not but at the end of the day it’s going to be blown up to be a big thing anyway.
“You just have to deal with that and I suppose grow up and be men about it and just make sure we keep ourselves in check and in the right boat.”