Paul Kinnerk has been one of Clare hurling’s driving forces since the turn of the decade and is the common denominator between all the successes from minor through to senior, but when it comes to the big ball he’s a Limerick man, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
This one could go either way
IT’S the saffron and blue top that always stood out — in Cusack Park, in Semple Stadium, Croke Park and wherever hurling brought Paul Kinnerk in his six-year stretch with Clare teams.
That training top or anorak became Kinnerk’s signature along the road of Clare’s stunning successes from minor through to senior — he always wore it, the first year because he’d just bought it, but thereafter out of superstition as success followed success.
“It became a bit of a lucky charm of mine after the first year with the minor,” admitted Kinnerk in the run-up to the 2013 All-Ireland senior final, “so I just kept wearing it, even though it’s getting old now”.
It’s in storage now though — until Kinnerk answers the Clare hurling call once more as the Monaleen man looks to new and different horizons.
His travel plans this summer that kick off in a few weeks and take him on the Incas’ trail to Machu Picchu and beyond while Clare hurling embarks on what everyone hopes to be another long trek to Croke Park in September.
His football — Limerick football, as the former county senior and county championship winner with Monaleen turns his messianic coaching skills to his GAA roots in a battle to win hearts and minds.
“It’s a new challenge — the role brings with it trying to get the coaching structures correct and getting coaching systems in play and that’s totally separate from the issue of getting the best players in. It’s something that’s going to take time,” he says of his new role as head of Limerick’s new underage academy.
“It’s tough from the Limerick point of view as you’re in the heart of three other really popular sports — rugby, soccer and hurling.
“You really are competing with them and it’s trying to make your brand as attractive as possible to try and get them in. Get them in early and hope that when they’re enjoying themselves that they continue to commit to the sport,” he adds.
Kinnerk is only starting — this football journey following his retirement from the inter-county game coming after an injury-ravaged career in Limerick green. First it was ankle trouble, then a shoulder injury, but latterly persistent hamstring problems forced him to call a halt.
He’s just one of a raft of Limerick players who have slipped into retirement in recent years, as new manager John Brudair looks to build a new team around the few experienced heads that are left and a host of newcomers who have come up through the underage ranks.
“I was looking at pen pictures the other night,” says Kinnerk, “and there are seven or eight of them that I wouldn’t recognise. There has been a massive turnover. Going through it from defence up — Stephen Lavin, Stephen Kelly, Stephen Lucey, Andrew Lane, John Galvin, Conor Fitzgerald and Ger Collins, all players that had really been permanent fixtures in Limerick teams of recent times. There not there.
“What John Brudair has done and you can see it happening is that he’s got a nice blend there at the moment. He still has stalwarts like Johnny McCarthy, Pa Ranahan, Ian Ryan and Seanie Buckley, so he has a nice blend of experience with the youth.”
That Clare have something similar, with eight who played in the championship game against Limerick three years ago no longer part of the squad — Ger Quinlan, Michael O’Shea, Alan Clohessy, Shane McNelis, John Hayes, Niall Browne, Barry Harnett and David Russell— Kinnerk is expecting a few surprises.
“There isn’t the familiarity that there would have been there previously,” he says, “and it’s going to be fresh for both teams in that they don’t know each other and with that it’s a learning process. You’ll see some players expressing themselves more freely, not knowing what their marker is likely to do, but I’m sure both management teams will have their work done and have their teams well-versed in the new players on each team.”
That said, Kinnerk is expecting another battle to the last, like in 2012.
“There’s a tradition there between the two sides that you can nearly bank on it being in the last ten minutes with a kick of a ball in it,” he says. “Any games I’ve gone to or played in between Limerick and Clare down the years, you just know that it’s going to go down to the wire. You have yourself mentally prepared for that — it was like that three years ago in the Gaelic Grounds.
“You went in knowing that you were going to have a serious battle with Clare — it was the same if you were meeting them in the McGrath Cup or National League or championship, it’s just the way it is, a dogfight between the two of them.
“I wouldn’t like to call it. The match-ups will be intriguing — it will be very interesting to see what the other does tactically. I’d expect to see a great battle between Gary Brennan and Gearóid Hegarty. I’d expect to a great battle between Kevin Harnett and Ian Ryan — that will be intriguing.”
Then there’s the tactical battle:
“What will interest me the most is how each management team will react to the cards that the other throws down tactically,” says Kinnerk. “If Limerick decide to play deep, how are Clare going to counteract that.
“If Clare bring the likes of a Podge Collins back the field how are Limerick going to react to that. Those are two things that could possibly happen and which ever team deals with that the best will be on the front foot.
“Coming down to the last ten minutes, whoever more efficient in that time will come through and I think there’s a real big reward at the end of it.
“Both teams would back themselves against Cork in a semi-final. There’s a massive reward there and I wouldn’t like to call which way it is going to go.”
No doubt his football heart says Limerick.
What his heart and heads says about the hurling game the following day is another thing entirely, of course.