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Shane Elliott

Shane Elliott: Limerick on the verge of greatness

I LOVE to watch greatness in sport. Be that the individual brilliance of top performers like Federer, McCoy, Messi and Shefflin or the collective excellence of an exceptional team.

In my opinion to qualify for greatness status you have to deliver to consistently high standards over a prolonged period of time.

In GAA terms you automatically think of the Dublin footballers under Jim Gavin or the Kilkenny hurlers under Brian Cody.

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I bring it up now as we are close to adding the Limerick hurlers under John Kiely to that list as I think it is becoming increasingly apparent that they are a team on the verge of greatness status.

The nature of their performance in the All-Ireland final suggests they have the potential to go on to many more titles. This year they have simply blown everyone away with their strength, mobility, work rate, decision-making and faultless handling.

Whilst some may complain about the one-sided nature of the final, personally I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was mesmerised by how they made the game look so easy and made a very good Cork side look nothing more than ordinary.

The last time I witnessed such perfection on a hurling field was when Kilkenny dismantled Waterford in the 2008 final. I was fortunate enough to be at that particular game and remember thinking how on earth do you get a team to perform at such a level in a pressure situation.

I honestly didn’t think I would see a performance in a final to match it in my lifetime but Limerick may actually have exceeded it. The similarities between them and that Kilkenny team are striking in terms of their insatiable work rate and willingness to back each other up.

However, what stands out most when you look at the common traits of great teams and individuals is a deep sense of humility and lack of ego.

Cody in Kilkenny was borderline obsessed with not allowing egos to develop in the changing room, similar to Alex Ferguson when in charge of Manchester United. Anyone showing signs of getting above their station was quickly dispatched.

The famous All Blacks in rugby work on the simple principle of “no dickheads” and listening to the management and players of Limerick after their victory the humility and lack of ego shone through. That doesn’t happen by accident as such cultures take time to develop.

To emphasise the point I read a piece by Nicky Quaid, the Limerick goalkeeper, after the game where he talked about his preparations leading up to the match and the sense of elation he felt following the game. He recalled celebrating wildly with his full-back line in the immediate aftermath and catching out of the corner of his eye a devastated Alan Cadogan of Cork. He instantly thought I don’t want to be rubbing it in here and broke away to share a few consolatory words with Cadogan. Now that shows class and demonstrates for me the value of being a good winner, a trait often seen in the truly great sides.

In truth I think hurling in general is good at that and John Kiely has clearly invested heavily in developing the players as individuals who are well grounded and not likely to lose the run of themselves on the back of their achievements to date.

That doesn’t augur well for the competition as I do get the real sense that they are a team determined to continue to improve and add considerably more titles to the three they currently have.

As the county season ends we are already well into club championship in many counties and that shift of emphasis is the perfect time for me to pen this as my last column.

Three years and close on 100 columns is quite enough for the reader as much as it is for me. Whilst like many hurling people I could talk about the game all day I find myself in danger of repeating myself so am more than happy to hand the baton on to someone with new things to say.

In doing so I can’t thank Ronan and the team enough for the opportunity to write the column and for their help and support during my time as a columnist.

To whoever takes over I wish them nothing but the best and hope they enjoy it as much as I have.

On a more sombre note, I wish to finish by sending my sincere condolences to the family of one of hurling’s great characters, Sean McGuiness. I had the pleasure of playing under Sean when he was county manager in the ‘90s and he was a joy to work with.

Sean had that unique ability to make everyone feel good about themselves and his passion and knowledge for the game shone through in every conversation. In line with the theme of this column he was also extremely humble and his loss will be sorely felt in the wider hurling family. I hope his family get some comfort from knowing how well thought of he was by all involved in the game. May he Rest in Peace.

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