LIMERICK’S LEAGUE CAMPAIGN was a mixed bag, with two wins, two defeats and a draw arriving from their five games.

It was always going to be difficult to top the 2020 season when they went unbeaten across pre-season, league and championship.

After failing to win any of their opening three games, they’ve started to motor in recent weeks and posted 0-33 and 3-26 in recent victories over Cork and Westmeath respectively.

Gearoid Hegarty feels John Kiely’s side are on the right track as the countdown begins to the Munster semi-final showdown with Cork on 3 July.

“I think it’s been a great league, being honest,” says Hegarty.

“We’ve had a couple of mixed results, but I think our performances have kind of been trending in the right direction. Realistically speaking, yes we’ve had a couple of losses, but that’s not always a terrible thing during the league.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a loss that you can reflect on, and see where you went wrong, see what you can improve on.

“It’s not the worst thing to have a loss so early in the year, one that’s not going to have a huge impact on the championship going forward. It’s kind of nice to have a couple of key areas to identify and work on following a loss.”

He believes the Treaty are still on an upward trajectory and can surpass the heights they reached for their All-Ireland wins in 2018 and 2020.

“I think so, without a doubt. It’s nearly like a race, if you’re just trying to maintain your position you’ll be passed out. You’ve got to keep improving and stretching away. I do absolutely believe we have still a good bit of room for improvement.

“You look at our league performances so far this year, they’ve been a small bit inconsistent. We’ve had two losses and a couple of inconsistent performances here and there. So we do absolutely have massive room for improvement.”

He admitted Limerick took a look at their own tackling in the wake of the early rounds when they conceded a high free count. The All-Ireland champions shipped 32 points to frees in their first three games.

“We definitely looked at it after the first game or two that we were giving away too many frees, without a doubt. Look you can blame everybody bar yourself but at the end of the day we just had to look at ourselves.

“Realistically the majority of them were frees against us in the first two games and I know there were frustrations in the first couple of games in the league.

“But, realistically, when we went back and actually looked at it we’d always look at it on a Tuesday night after the game, we’d always reflect on the game that we’ve just played. Realistically the majority of them were frees.

“So the onus was on us to improve our tackling efficiency and I think we have done that very well over the last couple of games.”

A groin injury he picked up against Galway forced the 26-year-old to sit out the games against Waterford and Cork. He returned to action yesterday with a substitute appearance against Westmeath.

“I just took my time rehabbing it,” he explains. “In fairness the lads looked after me, making sure when I do come back, I was right.

“Because as you can imagine, if you go back too soon and then get another little knock, another two or three week injury, you’re nearly out of the first round of the championship. And it’s hard to get back into the team then. So that was it. It was nothing major.”

In the past, Deise star Austin Gleeson spoke about the pressure he put on himself in the seasons after his Hurler of the Year campaign.

Hegarty was aware that he may be more of a marked man in 2021 after landing the gong last winter. The St Patrick’s clubman will follow a similar routine to last season in order to get the best out of himself.

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“That is something I would have had a conversation with Caroline [Currid] our sports psychologist in terms of just trying to replicate how I was feeling last year in terms of going into games,” he says.

“I was very laid back and I’ve spoken about how I wasn’t worrying about too much things, like say you didn’t get a good night’s sleep the night before a game or whatever. Just getting back into that mental state where you’re nice and relaxed going into a game.

“I feel like I’m still in that mindset so far. Obviously, championship hasn’t started yet and time will tell as to how we go this year. But honestly, it’s just focusing on what’s important.

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“It’s about getting the most out of yourself in training on a Tuesday night and Friday night, making sure you’re looking after the gym side of things, your nutrition and sleep.

“Once all those boxes are ticked just forgetting about it until an hour or two before the game, just having the craic with the lads and trying to enjoy it as much.

“That’s what works for me, other things work for other players but that’s what I feel works best for me is just relaxing into the game and going from there. I talked in the past that I’m a very reflective person.

“I’d obviously have reflected on last year on what worked for me and what didn’t work for me. Obviously I’ll try keep onto what worked for me and try improve on a small few aspects as well. A work in progress. ”

#HurlingToTheCore ambassador Gearóid Hegarty at the launch of the second series of Bord Gáis Energy’s GAAGAABox, which features the most passionate hurling fans across the country filmed in their front-rooms as they experience the agony and ecstasy of following their counties’ fortunes from home. You can watch GAAGAABox on Bord Gáis Energy’s #HurlingToTheCore YouTube channel throughout the Senior Hurling Championship.

Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

The return of fans to games is a welcome development for the wing-forward and he’s hopeful bigger crowds can attend as the summer goes on.

“The sooner we get back to fans being at games the better. There were 22,500 people in Wembley yesterday watching England and Croatia.

“I know they are a small bit further down the line than we are. But I would hope that at minimum they go ahead with what is planned and maybe able to ramp it up a small bit.

“I don’t pay too much attention to it. There is so much negativity associated with it, you’re absolutely lynched if you have an opinion on these kind of things. But I would hope that the minimum is what they have proposed.

“As far as I know they are looking at full attendances in the later stages of the Euros, which is happening well before the later stages of the All-Ireland, so I would hope we can see decent attendances. I’m not expecting 82,000 people at an All-Ireland final in a couple of months but I would hope we can get decent attendances at games.”

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