Limerick begin the defence of their All-Ireland title on Sunday when they welcome Cork to the LIT Gaelic Grounds in the Munster Hurling Championship round-robin stages.
2018 will go down in history as one of the greatest ever summers of hurling with John Kiely’s men bringing an unmatched level of intensity to the table that saw them end a 45-year wait. Centre-forward, Kyle Hayes, is aware that in order to repeat the successes last year, Limerick need to up their intensity further in their quest for back-to-back All-Ireland titles.
However, the current Young Hurler of the Year believes they have ‘stepped up another bar’ in 2019 with their only blip coming against this weekend’s opponents, Cork.
“We know we’re gonna have to step up another bar. And to be fair, I think it has in training and the matches we’ve played. Apart from maybe the match against Cork, it’s been fairly high. Our goal is to keep that high and keep improving.
“Hopefully it’ll start going up again.”
Limerick’s intensity comes from within their camp as according to Hayes, competition for starting places is ridiculous with Limerick’s ‘B’ team regularly beating the ‘A’ team.
“The competition is ridiculous. There is no first fifteen or second fifteen because the second fifteen would beat the first fifteen as much as the other way around. It’s crazy.
“I think that’s a really good sign of a team as well. Especially with the way the Championship is this year and last year – you need a squad.”
With competition as fierce as this, it’s hardly worth their while taking part in challenge matches because the in-house games are as good as any challenge game they are going to get.
Hayes cites the intensity of these in-house games which are quite often refereed by John Kiely who is known to let a lot go.
“We mostly do in-house games. They were as good as any challenge, really because every game was so intense.
“He leaves a lot go alright, in fairness. You need that as well to keep fellas on their toes.”
These in-house games are more than just warm-up matches for the first fifteen selected to take the field as proven by the fact that the ‘B’ recorded a victory over the ‘A’ team in the weeks leading up to last year’s All-Ireland final and according to Hayes, this is a regular occurrence.
Over the last 18 months, plenty of players have made the jump between the two teams due to the closeness in competition.
“They did, yeah. The week or two before the All-Ireland they beat us, yeah. They’d be beating the ‘A’ team the whole time.
“If you’re playing well in training you might get a start then and you’re up onto the so-called ‘A’ team then.
“It’s obviously the other way around then if you’re not going so well you might need a kick in the hole. You’re going out then and trying to make it up.”
Despite the fact that their perceived ‘B’ team can often enough defeat the ‘A’ team, Hayes believes this does no harm as those players taking the field come Sunday might need that ‘shove-on’.
“No, I don’t think so really. Because I think maybe the reason for them beating us apart from skill and everything, the ‘A’ team might be getting a bit complacent and they do need that shove-on.
“It’s no harm at all.”
The intense nature of Limerick’s in-house games means that no position is safe, even if you are the Young Hurler of the Year.
Hayes admits that he does feel under pressure to keep his starting place but that pressure also brings a different edge to his game.
“I do feel under pressure and I think that kind of brings a different edge to my game as well. I know if I have two bad games in a row then there’s serious doubt. Every night at training you try and put in that extra effort and especially when the championship games come along you just try and perform.”