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'I Was Surprised By How Many Who Were On That Limerick Panel Aren't Anymore'

'I Was Surprised By How Many Who Were On That Limerick Panel Aren't Anymore'
By PJ Browne Updated
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Gearóid Hegarty was at his family home in Limerick city recently. On the wall hangs a team photo from Limerick's 2018 All-Ireland hurling final victory, the county's first in 45 years.

"I was surprised by how many lads who were on that panel aren't on the panel anymore," says Hegarty, speaking at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy’s It’s Anyone’s Game campaign.

"The last couple of years, there's probably three or four coming on every year, and three or four leaving. The panel quickly changes, and it keeps it fresh. That's really important, and why they do it.

"It's hard, and I've lost some great friends off the panel over the last number of years. It's a killer to see them go. You understand what the management team are trying to do."

From that team photo, Kevin Downes, Pat Ryan, Colin Ryan, William O'Meara, Tom Condon, Richie McCarthy, David Dempsey, Barry O'Connell, Andrew La Touche Cosgrave, Paul Browne, Barry Hennessy, Shane Dowling and Lorcan Lyons are not involved in this championship season.

Limerick head into this year's championship aiming to make it four titles on the bounce. It's an unprecedented period of success for the county, one which its supporters continue to appreciate, but others decreasingly so. Outside Limerick, they've come to be regarded like Kilkenny were in the noughties to the middle of the last decade - respected but disliked.

17 April 2023; Pictured is Bord Gáis Energy ambassador Gearóid Hegarty at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy's 'It's Anyone's Game' campaign to promote inclusivity in hurling. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

"I grew up in the era of the great Kilkenny team in the 2000s and even in my household no matter who they were playing you were always supporting the opposition," says Hegarty.

"Obviously, Limerick were in the All-Ireland Final in 2007 and I was here for it.


"That's the team you want to be. You want to be the team that everybody wants to lose. There's a reason for that. Because obviously they've been successful as we've been for the last few years.

"We relish that position. We take it on and we use it as a positive. We don't shy away from it. I know exactly what you're on about because I remember that about Kilkenny when I was growing up, believe me."

2018 Limerick All-Ireland hurling final team photo

19 August 2018; The Limerick squad before the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Hegarty says "without a doubt" that this is the deepest squad Limerick have had in his eight seasons, and believes the same callow player he was in 2016 would not get on the panel now.


"I was a little bit lucky that there was a small bit of a changing of the guard, a lot of the older panel members were kind of moving on when I came on the scene, we were after winning an under-21 All-Ireland so they brought in a load of young fellas and started blooding them fairly quickly," he says.


"A lot of us were thrown in straight away that year. If I was 20, 21 now, the exact same 20, 21-year-old that I was in 2016 coming into the panel, I probably wouldn't get on this panel. The lads that are coming onto the panel the last number of years, specifically strength and conditioning-wise, they're at an elite level.

"I've said it before, I can't get over the level of strength and conditioning that some of the young lads that have come onto the panel the last number years are at. It's incredible. I'm thinking back to when I was that age, I was nowhere near that level. I'm a little bit lucky in that sense, but that's why they're being brought onto the panel, I suppose. It's as simple as.

"That's the level that they're at and they deserve to get onto the panel. I do think that it's becoming more and more professional, in inverted commas, in the last number of years in terms of the direction it's going, because you have to be at such an unbelievable level even as a young fella now to get onto the panel."


9 April 2023; Limerick manager John Kiely arrives before the Allianz Hurling League Final match between Kilkenny and Limerick at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Though he is a former Hurler of the Year and three-time All-Star, Hegarty still has some jitters every time the Limerick team is named.


"I suppose I'm always in fear, like," he says.

"I'm always in fear that you'll lose your starting spot, that's the way I've always been. Even since I came on the panel, I always wanted... I want to play every game.

"You always have that element of fear inside you: 'Are you doing enough? Am I gonna get a starting jersey?' [John Kiely] names the team on a Friday night before a championship match on a Sunday and you're never 100 per cent sure that you're gonna be named. There's always that moment of doubt as he's getting to the half-back, midfield line. 'Please, please, please.' There's always an element of fear, for sure. Always.

"I know that he will reward the lads that deserve to be starting, it's as simple as that. I suppose he probably hasn't thrown any curveballs over the last number of years, if you want to phrase it differently, there has never been any ambiguity.

"You know if you're not starting you're not doing enough, simple. If you're unsure, you can go to him and he'll tell you straight up. But I've never been in that position in terms of having to go to him to ask him that question."

As part of the campaign and to celebrate extending its sponsorship of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship until 2025, Bord Gáis Energy, is giving people from around Ireland the opportunity to win prizes throughout the season. Visit www.bordgaisenergy.ie/home/bge-gaa for competition details.

See Also: Joe Canning And Gearoid Hegarty Not Fond Of New GAA Panels Policy

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