Shane Dowling can recall a time when people in Limerick thought an All-Ireland for the county was imaginative. He can also remember a time when he thought he would never hurl again. Luckily for him, both are now in the rearview mirror.
In his year, Limerick hits the runway for a third All-Ireland and a fourth in five years. Throw in their provincial and league wins and it’s easy to see why these are the days of limerick hurling. And while the county’s focus is on healthy silverware eating, Dowling has hit small milestones of his own. Almost three years after retiring from inter-county hurling aged just 27 with a chronic knee injury, he played for Na Piarsaigh – his first in 32 months – in last weekend’s City Hurling League win over Monaleen .
“No, I never did (think he would play again),” he said at the launch of RTÉ’s GAA Championship coverage.
“Not in the last few years. I just consider myself very lucky. Lots of work, lots of dark days. Just flattered to be able to do it. It’s a building block – I don’t know where to come back from. The main reason for the future is that I would like to help or talk to players in a similar position because it’s quite difficult. I was lucky. I was able to reach a few people who felt the same way. If you can talk to someone who has had the same experience, it’s easier – I’d love to do that in the future.”
As far as progress goes, he doesn’t look too far ahead. Every session, every game and every minute goes against your head, where your prognosis was three years ago.
“We have been training with the club again for a few weeks. Before that I worked for months. The really hard stuff. Some days I don’t need time to recover, other days it takes a few days. Most likely I will never go back to where I was. I was going to say I lost my pace but I never had that to lose anyway!”
This weekend he will watch his former Limerick team-mates try to rediscover the form that has made them the most feared team in the world in recent years.
“I will never forget growing into my teenage years, starting out in the underage Limerick panels. The number of people I’ve said I’d die happy if Limerick could just win an All-Ireland and that’s all we wanted to see. That’s where we come from, and not that long ago. There were questions about Limerick’s hunger and all, but we can’t forget that all of these players – myself included – would have grown up if they hadn’t seen Limerick in an All-Ireland.
“We would have known the history there and now that we have a chance to win it’s just a good era for Limerick. We won three. I don’t think the guys will say, ‘We won three, that’s great’. It will be a case of “We haven’t won them that many times in Limerick so we have to take every opportunity that comes our way.”
“The fact that we play three in a row and win what we have is fantastic. It’s such a great time down here in Limerick and I think from a 31 County perspective everyone was not pleased to see that Limerick might not be having the best league campaign. So you go into a Munster championship and wonder where Limerick stands. Are you where you were last year?
“More than that, Limerick are animals, they are 10 points better than everyone else. From a viewer’s perspective I think it gets more interesting because the perception is that maybe Limerick isn’t as good as they are and that makes it all the more tense for everyone else. But in Limerick we hope they get back to their best form.”
Despite their poor form in the league, where they have only beaten Offaly in five games, Dowling believes John Kiely’s side have more to offer against Cork in Sunday’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“I think I saw a stat recently, someone said it, that in the 2017 Limerick v Kilkenny qualifier there are 11 of the starting side still more or less starting that day. So that’s five years of just going on consistently. It’s hard to keep going. I don’t really buy the age, it’s just the workload of the past five years. It’s difficult, it’s the biggest challenge for you, can you keep going? People talk about, “Is Limerick like Dublin?” – I don’t believe in any of that stuff at all.
“Limerick is Limerick, they are who they are. They have what they have and they’re very proud of who they are and they’re not going to think about taking their foot off the pedal or anything. I saw Gearóid (Hegarty) say they were as hungry as ever and I would totally believe that.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/shane-dowling-that-is-the-challenge-for-limerick-can-they-maintain-it-41548726.html Shane Dowling – “That’s the challenge for Limerick, can they keep it up?”