The long road to unparalleled glory … how captain Declan Hannon is following career path of Stephen Cluxton

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Your stereotypical image of the most decorated captain in modern hurling history? Well, he must be totally consumed by the game, every waking minute. Stephen Cluxton with a stick, if you like.

hen you ask Declan Hannon did he watch Kilkenny’s win over Clare, the day before Limerick’s last-four duel with Galway, and he serves you an ace you never saw coming.

“I don’t really enjoy watching matches,” he confesses. “I was watching King Richard, it’s a film about Venus and Serena Williams, while the game was on. I won’t watch it myself, but we’ll obviously have our own video sessions, bits and pieces of the game will be picked out, we’ll do it that way. I just don’t know, I’d drive myself mad watching matches.”

In fairness, Hannon has the perfect excuse that Limerick minds, that Saturday, were focussed purely on their own semi-final against the Tribesmen. No need for distractions. But surely, if the fixtures had been reversed, he would have watched Kilkenny/Clare on the Sunday?

“I don’t think so,” he demurs. “I haven’t watched a whole pile of games throughout the year. Maybe strange in that sense, you think you’d be watching all the matches – but I suppose you’re nearly five nights a week at it anyway.

“It’s kind of time to switch off when you’re not involved … you need to take a break and refresh your mind and your body. We can’t always be constantly hurling 24-7.”

For the record, Hannon is not particularly big into tennis either but “I’d recommend the film anyway, if anyone’s bored.”

It’s equally clear that a man in his fifth year as Limerick leader is not remotely bored of winning big. And maybe, at least partially, that has something to do with the seven seasons that went before for a player who turns 30 in November.

Hannon’s career trajectory carries some striking parallels with that of a certain aforementioned Dublin goalkeeper. Cluxton made his SFC debut as an understudy at 19 and won his first All-Star before he had turned 21 – but the journey to deliverance was as traumatic as it was long.

No loss more painful, arguably, than the anti-climactic end to his third season, a costly red card against Armagh in 2003. There was no Celtic Cross, not even an All-Ireland final appearance, in his first ten seasons. But that moment finally arrived in 2011, at the age of 29, via his own

unerring left boot … his next seven All-Ireland SFC medals, all as captain, were all won during his thirties.

Even if Hannon scaled Everest more rapidly, their career paths still warrant comparison.

He first played league hurling with Limerick in 2011, still only 18 and studying for his Leaving Cert. By year’s end, having shot 0-11 (including five from play) in All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin, the half-forward prodigy was an All-Star nominee. But Limerick’s rise to the top was both fitful and frustrating. A Munster title breakthrough in his third year was overshadowed by crushing disappointment, as the team flopped against Clare, Hannon’s freetaking went AWOL and he was replaced on 51 minutes. “Probably the worst experience I had in a Limerick jersey,” the Adare man would later recall.

That admission (from October 2018) came in the warm afterglow of a first Liam MacCarthy success in 45 years. Hannon had failed to even reach an All-Ireland final in his first seven seasons.

Then, at the start of John Kiely’s second campaign, he was handed the armband. The rest, they say, is history: last August Hannon joined a pantheon of three long-departed hurlers, none more famous than Christy Ring, by becoming a three-time All-Ireland-winning captain.

Ahead of last year’s final, Hannon professed that he wasn’t even aware of this. No surprise then that, with the chance now to eclipse ‘Ringy’, he remains unfussed by it all.

“I’m not lying but I haven’t really thought about that at all,” he says. “For players there’s always something else coming around the corner; I can’t be thinking about anything other than the next training session and getting ready for that.

“If I’m distracted by other things, I won’t be doing what’s right for the team, and that’s unacceptable,” adds Hannon.

Did he think about it last winter?

“Not really. Maybe when I retire in a few years I might look back.”

For now, though, it’s all about looking forward to Kilkenny.

“We’re on a fantastic journey,” he says. “Six years ago you wouldn’t have said we’d have been in this situation at all. It’s just try and make the most of it while you can.”

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