Captain admits the dressing room was calm despite being 10 points down to Tipperary

What a difference a year makes. On a balmy day, Adare’s Declan Hannon sat in the fancy-cushioned seats in the Gaelic Grounds and thought about the prelude to last year’s All-Ireland final.

“I can remember doing a Zoom call with a lot of ye last year, sitting in my sitting room,” he told a gathering of media folk.

He wasn’t getting misty eyed to see the same faces up close or anything. But it has felt more like a customary hurling championship this year.

In the wintry approach to last December’s showdown with Waterford, Hannon found himself almost afraid to leave the house in case he contracted Covid or was deemed a close contact and ruled out. That threat has remained in their minds and the recent experience of the Tyrone football team has sharpened the resolve of all remaining championship contenders to take all the advised precautions – and then some.

“I don’t have to hammer them at all because they know the consequences if you are out and about and mingling you could easily be a close contact and miss an All-Ireland final – that’s not why we train to miss games like this. They are very good and very disciplined in that sense.”

This Limerick side hit the right tone when they won their second All-Ireland last year. If the scenes in 2018 were just euphoric, they reclaimed the All-Ireland when the pandemic had a vice-like grip. Their reflections afterwards gave the occasion context: it was wonderful for them, historic for the county. But it was a game, a sport, in the midst of a deeply sad and stressful time for many people in the county.

Hannon had the strange experience of lifting the MacCarthy Cup and then leaving it behind him when he rejoined his team-mates.

“It was strange. There was a bit of roaring and bawling from a few of the boys and then just silence. If you get to lift the Liam MacCarthy, no matter the circumstance, it’s a good day. That’s the way it was last year and it was disappointing not to have supporters there but look we are back there again and we can try and do it for the second year in a row.”

There is no real surprise that Limerick have returned to this stage again. Their early wobbles in the league were no more than that. The supreme and sweeping reversal of that 10-point half-time deficit in the Munster final against Tipperary evaporated any thoughts that they might have slipped. It wasn’t just that they wiped out the lead, it was that they did it in 15 minutes of monstrous hurling.

Recalling the atmosphere in the dressing room at half-time, Hannon said: “It was quite calm. I would say you would be surprised if you were a fly on the wall to see how calm it was. We knew ourselves that we hadn’t shown up and in any match you will be found out straight away and Tipperary were full value for their 10-point lead at half-time.

“We just needed to reset and get back into the game plan we wanted to implement. We weren’t allowed to implement in in the first half because they ran amok against us and we were at sixes and sevens but we gradually got to grips with the game and Séamus’s [Flanagan] goal gave us a bit of momentum and confidence to go after it again and we pushed on in the final quarter.”

Hannon is a comfortable presence in front of microphones and has that laid-back authority that makes him obvious captain material. He is one of the survivors of Limerick’s turbulent arrival at this period of internal cohesion and harmony which is enabling them to get the most out of a deeply talented squad. He nods in reference to the John Kiely speech in the wake of the 2018 All-Ireland when he expressed the wish that the group would make more of this opportunity.

By Keith Duggan Irish Times


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