Meetings of Clare and Limerick in the Munster senior hurling championship tend to be special occasions, their showdown on Sunday will be unique in that it is the first provincial clash between the sides to be held behind closed doors but it won’t shake the determination from Cian Lynch and his teammates from the Treaty County.
Since 2012, the counties have played each other four times in the Munster SHC with Limerick coming out on top in three of these encounter. Notably Clare’s 2018 win made them the only side to defeat John Kiely’s charges in a year in which they were crowned All-Ireland champions.
Cian Lynch was Hurler of the Year following that unforgettable year for Limerick supporters. Indeed his first senior championship appearance came in 2015 when the then TJ Ryan managed side defeated Clare 1-19 2-15 with the lively Lynch notching three points from corner forward.
Everything associated with Cian’s involvement to the team has strengthened since then but their rivalry with the neighbours remains as strong. “We all either went to school together or went to college together so we know each other fairly well off the pitch, being so close there is massive rivalry but both teams show the utmost of respect for each other and they understand each other. It is just a matter of going out and focusing on our game and doing the best we can, they will do the same”.
His immediate interview with RTÉ after being named Hurler of the Year two years ago and the message of the importance of the GAA in communities and vice versa has been reinforced given the association’s response across the country to COVID-19. “The backbone of any society and every community in Ireland is the GAA. For me personally it’s great to be able to play and get out training mentally for us as players but also for our family members and supporters to have something to hold onto, I know they are not able to go to games but it is bringing people together in a different scenario and it is bringing joy to households too. I know the recent restrictions are limiting people to 5km but there is no reason why they can’t reach out and text each other, stay in touch and support each other, it will be huge in the next few weeks”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, the two time Fitzgibbon Cup winner with Mary Immaculate College noted that his perspective on life has changed due to the pandemic. “Maybe on a normal day we’d be giving out about going training or giving out about rushing around, now you’re grateful to be able to go training or when you’re able to get back out on the road and go around the place. The Government and the GAA are doing everything in their power to do everything right so we just have to have faith and keep driving on”.
Faith has always been important for the Patrickswell native. “In the initial period of lockdown I used to go for a walk every morning and click onto the mass that was online within the parish, I used to put that into my headphones and listen to it, it was a great way of staying grounded and focused with it a bit of positivity. After that, we were able to go back to the church and it was a great way of setting up your week, going down to mass on a Sunday morning and listening to a few little stories to focus mind. I think it is very important for people to keep the faith now and keep holding onto it”.
Few GAA players and sporting figures are as vocal on the merits they obtain from going to mass, his views on religion’s importance have struck a chord with parents of young children and he is hopeful when he graduates as a religion and geography teacher from NUIG to impart this message on teenagers. “In modern society it is hard because everyone is under the influence of social media and other pressures in life, we need to realise the backbone in most communities is the church and its faith. I’m doing religion and geography teaching and I’m looking forward to going into schools and being able to help in anyway possible, it is not about forcing religion on anyone but giving people a framework to stay grounded and have an outlet mentally with something to hold onto”.
Coming up through the underage ranks and into the U21 grade, Cian and his county teammates had an edge over Clare and this was aided by their greater physicality. He acknowledged that every team in the country has realised the benefits of gym work to strengthen their game. “I know hurling is amateur but it is professional in everything but name, it is a nice outlet to be able to do a bit of gym work and get away from the field, it is something different. Even some evenings when you’d have had a long day just doing a little gym session whether it be moving a few weights or creating a bit of a racket it gives you a bit of drive and purpose, it is a massive thing if anyone can, I know most people don’t have gym equipment I only have a few small bits myself but it gives you a sense of doing something and purpose which is important”.
Lynch had little doubts on returning to the county panel upon completion of their club campaign and has praised the efforts of their management team which includes Broadford’s Aonghus O’Brien and Alan Cunningham of Shannon with ex Clare coach Paul Kinnerk also involved. “Every scenario and household differs but for me personally I was just mad for road and mad to get back, it is a sense of routine and getting back with your friends and having a bit of craic on the hurling pitch whether it is just pucking a ball over and back, you realise how much sports means to us as individuals and communities. As Irish people when we pull together we always come out on the right side of it”.