Two All-Ireland hurling wins in six seasons with two counties – ‘They’re both equally special’

LAST SUNDAY MAY have represented a seismic breakthrough for Limerick hurling after a fruitless 45-year spell, but for one member of the winning setup it was not entirely new territory.

An August Sunday with his native county in 2018 was preceded by a September Saturday in 2013 with Clare.

For Paul Kinnerk the outcome was the same on both occasions, helping direct a team from the sideline that claimed a landmark victory and carried the Liam MacCarthy Cup home with them.

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Coaching two counties to claim All-Ireland hurling crowns in the space of six seasons represents a significant body of work but he’s not rushing to make comparisons.

“It’s absolutely fantastic to win it with Limerick and it was fantastic to win with Clare. I wouldn’t say one is superior to the other. They’re both equally special.

“Obviously it’s great to win one with the county you played with up along. But 2013, I would stress the point that was with a group of lads that I had six or seven years, I had an incredible relationship with. If I was in trouble in the morning, those Clare boys would be some of the first lads that I’d call.

Former Clare hurling trainer Paul Kinnerk.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“If you were going to win it with two counties, they’d be the two. I mean Clare where my mother and father are from, I taught there (in St Caimin’s in Shannon) and I would have nearly grown up supporting them. Then the county where I lived all my life and who I played football with. It’s unbelievable.”

For outside observers, there can be neat parallels drawn between the triumphs. Clare’s arrived in the middle of three U21 crowns on the spin, Limerick’s has occurred on the back of similar victories in 2015 and 2017.

Last Sunday may have been the county’s first final appearance in 11 years and a maiden appearance in a senior decider for their starting fifteen but for Kinnerk it was never a game to file under learning experiences.

Such opportunities must be seized.

Paul Kinnerk (3rd back right) celebrating Limerick’s victory with players and management after the game.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It was an incredible way to win one but that’s the way it goes. You’ve to strike while the iron is hot. You’ve to take your chance.

“It was the same with us in 2013, we got on a roll, we made the most of it. That’s what we’ve done again this year. That’s how All-Irelands are won. You get on this wave of momentum.

“We’d a great lead in to it, great preparation and we knew it was going to take a brilliant performance to win but equally it was going to take a brilliant performance to beat us. Thankfully we held up our part of the bargain.”

Central to that performance was their approach to defending, a core element of the Limerick structure.

In Kinnerk’s eyes that began with their attackers – vividly portrayed by the early turnover by Graeme Mulcahy that yielded a converted free, Tom Morrissey robbing Gearoid McInerney before cutting through for their second goal and Peter Casey pounced to take possession off Adrian Tuohy, a moment that prompted Shane Dowling netting for the side’s third time.

GOAL LIMERICK! Shane Dowling with a great finish! pic.twitter.com/rerNCWfwik

— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 19, 2018

Then at the opposite end their rearguard restricted a Galway attack that contributed in total 1-6 from play. Cathal Mannion, Conor Cooney and Jonathan Glynn were held scoreless, while Conor Whelan’s solitary strike arrived with a goal in injury-time.

“In terms of the markers we set out, we probably hit a lot of them,” says Kinnerk.

“Our defence all year has started in our full-forward line. I think they set the tone in terms of the number of tackles, the number of turnovers that we made and how we squeezed them in the middle third.

“I think that was significant that we limited the quality ball that went into the Galway forward line and that helped our backs. Our backs obviously were very strong and disciplined in the structure that they kept throughout the game.

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“I think it was really a combined effort from that point of view, the backs being fully supported by the work that the forwards and midfield were doing.”

On the pitch Limerick got it right but that was backed up by the proper framework they had established off the pitch.

Limerick manager John Kiely with coach Paul Kinnerk during the game against Waterford in June.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“The biggest thing I would say and again I’d stress that point is I’ve been incredibly lucky to be part of two fantastic outfits from a management point of view and from a player point of view.

“In order to win an All-Ireland, all those parts need to be right. Thankfully we had that in 2013 and thankfully we had that again this year. They all have to click. It’s not just one component.

“You need to have all sectors taken care of. We had that in 2013 and this year again I knew, we had that from a management point of view, we had all aspects taken care of from the psychology to the strength and conditioning to the selecting to the video analysis.

“You don’t win an All-Ireland these days without ticking all those boxes. You just need to have that right.”

If Sunday was the culmination of the 2018 journey, there were signals along the way pointing to Limerick’s success.

“I felt we’d a good thing but trying to define what this is, is another thing,” admits Kinnerk.

“We just, as cliched as it is, took each game as it came. We focused on each opponent to see where that took us.

“I don’t think we mentioned the part of the year it was, we didn’t mention finals. We built serious momentum in the Munster league and the league itself. It was a big part for us to try to build that confidence within the group.

“The one thing we said that we weren’t just happy with a promotion. We needed to maximise the performance we had.”

The success frees the county from the tales of past crushing disappointments and removes the unwanted tag that hung over them as their drought continued.

It paves the way for a more promising future.

“It’s hard to believe because literally it (past defeats) is all you’d listened to in Limerick,” says Kinnerk.

“From that side alone it’s great. These boys have always said they wanted to make their own history. I think the win has shown that. They’ve made their own history. That’s the biggest thing.

“It’s going to be unreal. It’s incredible. The biggest outcome of this is the effect that it’s going to have on the people because we are sporting mad down in Limerick.

“We’ve been starved of success in some aspects. What this will do for the kids and the clubs, I think that’s the biggest thing.

“They’ve now got new heroes that will really propel them in their sporting ambitions as well. Just the feel-good factor around the county I think shouldn’t be underestimated as well.”

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