Seamus Flanagan: ‘Pressure is a privilege’:

By John Harrington

Talk of Limerick’s ‘Drive for Five’ All-Ireland Finals has been bubbling away in the background all year but this week it’s really come to the boil.

From 1941 to 2017 Limerick won just one All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship in 77 years and now they’re just two wins away from winning a sixth in seven years and the first ever county to win five in a row.

When you combine that history-making opportunity with a fervent supporter base more used to heartbreak than glory for decades, then you’ve all the ingredients you need for a souped-up hype train.

But so far at least it hasn’t looked like there’s even a remote chance of the team itself being derailed by all the outside noise.

According to Seamus Flanagan the players are embracing the challenge of creating history rather than feeling unnerved by it.

“The outside noise is always going to be there,” he says. “One things we’ve been taught is that if you try to push it down and ignore it, it’s only going to pop its head up even more.

“You have to acknowledge the fact that it’s there and we know that it’s out there and we know that people are talking about it but that’s for the fans, the media, and the public to talk about.

“We’ve acknowledged that it’s there and obviously it’s the elephant in the room. With that bit of pressure as well…people look at pressure as a bad thing. I think pressure is a privilege because it means you’re doing something right.

“That’s just part and parcel of it. So we’re just going with it. It’s there there. It’s in front of you. So you have to deal with it. I think anyone who plays high level sport has to do that.”

Limerick certainly looked unfazed by the weight of history when they became the first ever team to win six Munster titles in a row last month.

They’re a hugely athletic, skilful team, but perhaps their greatest strength is the mental resolve that gives them the self-confidence to enjoy this journey that they’re on together rather than stress about each hurdle they meet on the way.

“You have to enjoy it,” says Flanagan. “I was 20/21 when I came into the thing in 2018 and all I know is, and all I’m lucky enough to know, is success.

“A lot of people talk about the importance of focusing on the next game, the next game, but I think it’s important to live in the moment too and to be able to enjoy it as you’re going.

“That’s something I’m definitely taking on board in recent times, to enjoy the games you’re going out playing in. Enjoy playing in front of Limerick supporters in the Gaelic Grounds, enjoy being able hurl in Thurles for a Munster Final. Enjoy having the opportunity to play in front of that many people and to bring so much joy to people’s lives. You can really see that it does do that.

“So that enjoyment factor is definitely something that we’ve all taken on board. John (Kiely) definitely speaks about that a lot when he talks to us.”

It surely helps too that the formidable strength in depth of this Limerick panel means that the players have no option other than to keep straining at the leash because if they don’t they’ll quickly be replaced by someone who does.

Flanagan himself is a good case in point. He’s rarely been anything other than a hugely influential performer for Limerick but after missing the Munster Final with a hamstring injury there’s no guarantee he’ll make the starting XV against Cork on Sunday.

In his absence Shane O’Brien produced a huge performance on his first championship start in that Munster Final win over Clare, so since returning to training three weeks ago Flanagan has been doing his utmost to put himself back in the frame for selection.

“The way I always look at it, when you do get that jersey you cherish it and you try to leave it in as good a position as you can for the next fella who’s going to pick it up and Shane really did that in the Munster Final,” says Flanagan.

“He scored two points from play and was on the end of the world of ball inside. It’s keeping me on my toes, it’s keeping everyone going for a space in the full-forward line on their toes.

“It’s across the board because across the board you have people putting their hands up for every given position and it’s a testament to John for giving boys that opportunity but also to the boys for taking that opportunity when it comes along.”

Despite all he has already won, Flanagan remains as driven as ever.

His motivation doesn’t just come from his own natural competitiveness or the buzz of being part of a band of brothers that drive one another relentlessly to new heights.

He’s keenly aware too that he’s part of something bigger and that this era of Limerick hurling will always be remembered as something extra special.

“It’s everything, to be honest,” he says. “My own dad would have played a bit of inter-county himself. There’s a photo up at home of my dad and Nickie’s dad, the late, great Tommy (Quaid).

“So, I suppose Limerick hurling means a lot to us as a family. It gives a great pride of place in where you come from because it’s a small rural, West Limerick club and there wouldnt be too many people who would know of it.

“When I’m directing people I say to head for Newcastle west and go left. So it gives you a great sense of pride to be part of something like this and to have these people following you to the Glens of Antrim and back down again. They just want to be part of it too, so it means everything to be involved in this.

“And on a personal level, for my own family, it gives them such pride as well to see you out there and having that little bit of success as well goes a long way too.”