Part 3 of John Kiely’s three part interview.
Over the past couple of nights we have presented parts of John Kiely’s full interview for ‘Dreams: An Unforgettable Year’.
Catch Part 3 here.
Limerick came into the 2018 All-Ireland hurling final as underdogs against defending champions Galway.
Limerick were hoping to bridge a 45-year gap since their last win while Galway had won a first title since 1988 the previous year.
Both sides had come through epic semi-finals and the scene was set for a scintillating final.
Coming into the game, John Kiely spoke about his worry surrounding the ceremony in the lead up to a game of this magnitude.
Prior to throw in, this was substituted by a feeling of overwhelming pride in his squad.
“Even before the game started, we had the warm up and that went very well but there is a lot of time spent with the ceremonial stuff so I was a bit concerned about that. You’re watching the lads closely to see are they okay, see where there helmets are and stuff like that. But from watching them, I just got a huge sense of pride watching them parade around the field. You almost feel like this is worth the toil. Just so proud of the group of people behind you, selfless work and the amount of time they spent with the lads. Just an overwhelming sense of pride.”
And despite the lack of experience at this stage of the season, Limerick were dominant in the opening period.
Were it not for plenty of errant wides, the score could have been a lot more favourable than the 1-10 to 0-9 it read at the half.
But for Kiely and the players, it was a case of so far so good with one final push to go.
“At no point did I say we have to win this. I was happy where we were at and what we were doing. We were never concerned with wides throughout the year. I was hoping the players wouldn’t tie themselves because of them and they didn’t, they kept plugging away at it.
“Okay we didn’t have as much on the scoreboard as we would have liked but I thought we were doing everything right in terms of our defence, out work-rate, our passing and running. You could se that they were in the groove. Even though we didn’t have as much as we would have liked on the scoreboard, we didn’t do too bad, we had the lead and that was enough for me.
“They were happy enough at half-time, just steeling up for the last push.”
And closing in on inury time, Limerick were in dreamland. Shane Dowling’s 67th minute goal had Limerick ahead by eight before as many minutes of additional time were added.
This didn’t come as a surprise to Kiely.
Nonetheless, those minutes would compile of a number of memorable moments, which were mostly based in the Tribesmen’s favour.
“There were a few serious injuries, so I wasn’t surprised by it (8 minutes). I knew there would be a significant amount of added time. But we were in a good place, just had to keep hurling.
“There were a couple of moments. Conor Whelan snaps it and bang the lead is down to five. Couple of moments later, we turn over the ball and they put a free over. Then there’s the 21 yard free an Joe just rockets it and suddenly you can sense the excitement in the Galway crowd and we just needed a score to settle it. We hadn’t fallen asunder, we were doing an awful lot right, just a couple of things were badly punished. So we just tried to stay very calm.”
But in one of the defining moments of the year, up stepped a Limerick stalwart to deliver the crucial final blow for Limerick.
“And then Graeme pops up. Peter did well to dispossess the defender and Graeme rolls the shoulder, lets fly and it goes over. And I thought it was a massive score from a guy who’s had an incredible season. He got and assisted some savage important scores and there was none more important than that.”
There was still time for Galway to level with Joe Canning presented with a long range free to tie up the game.
Kiely described that moment as he watched one of the greatest hurlers of all time stand over a free to end Limerick’s dreams.
“With Joe’s free I was probably irate over that one because we worked hard on that as a unit to dispose and tackle so I was a bit cross but when it’s given, its given. Just have to roll with it. You’re wondering does Joe have it, he’s an extraordinary individual and you have to give him the chance to do it. But it’s hard in the 80th minutes, the amount f effort he has put in to get to that. And Id say he probably didn’t hit as sweet as he would on other occasions.
“But then it’s dropping into the square, some part of you is saying, is that worse, where was it going to end up. So it popped up and Tom snapped it and I was never so happy to see Tom snap it and to be fair he was going out with it and no one was stopping him!
“I think those moments are so vivid for everyone. That minute or so, how they felt during every second of it. It was an amazing end to it really.”
The emotion that met Limerick’s All-Ireland triumph was quickly replaced with an overriding sense of joy that saw the county unite in welcoming their heroes home, firstly in the city before taking over Adare and Galbally.
Kiely fondly remembers the aftermath of the substantial victory.
“That evening and the subsequent days were always going to be special for them and I suppose I was just teeing them up a little bit t look after themselves, each other and try and pause during those couple of days to enjoy the moment. Because you do get into a cycle of moving ang going and its incredible what was happening in front of their eyes.
“They put so much work to get themselves into that position and you want them to reap the rewards.
“The homecomings were very much a part of it. You were going back to your friends, back to your club, back to your people for everybody. We did it as a collective in the city on the Monday night and that was just nuts. Sheer euphoria, it was like a festival. That was just incredible.
“The following days were more pointed, going out to Adare for Declan, and back to Galbally for me was just nuts and I wish I was more self-aware on the night because there are so many things I would have liked to have said, people I would have liked to acknowledge but you’re in a space that you cannot have that quality of reflection.”
Although the win was incredible for all involved, Kiely took time to express his gratitude to the families and friends who go through so much during journeys like these, citing a funny memory form his own home.
“Yeah you cannot do it without them. They pay a price with the amount of time they go without us and vice versa. They realise how much it means to us and how much work is being put in by everybody. They get a sense that there is a greater cause there.
“My youngest girl Aoife was not happy that I wasn’t around one particular evening and my seven year old turned to her and said, ‘Aoife, he has to be with Limerick this evening and you just have to get over it!’.
“That’s reflected in other houses as well. I don’t think any of us regret getting involved and doing what we have. It’s a special group with a special bond. Whatever will be will be going forward but we will work hard to reach new heights.”
Summing up the experience as a whole, Kiely said,
“It was a wonderful experience. Amazing journey and a real privilige to have been involved and played some part in that journey and working with the people I’ve worked with, the entire group. A great gift. That word keeps coming to me, a gift from God that I’ve had the opportunity to have what we had this year.
A huge sense of delight for the people of limerick and over the past six weeks we have been lucky to have met people that have said thanks. Its fantastic that someone would say thanks to us but its fantastic for us to have them come along the journey with us and supported the team and we now have a really strong collective here in Limerick, the full unit. It’s magic”