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interview Richie McCarthy, Anthony Daly, Franny Forde and Martin Storey revisit what it's like to end an All-Ireland famine

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Martin Storey savours Wexford’s 1996 victory. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Martin Storey savours Wexford’s 1996 victory. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Martin Storey savours Wexford’s 1996 victory. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

There was a moment during a Limerick psychology session with Caroline Currid two years ago when the winning mentality possessed by a new-look Treaty squad really hit home to Richie McCarthy.

McCarthy had soldiered for the guts of a decade in green and white without any national success at that stage, but the influx of many prodigious underage talents would quickly change that, as well as his outlook.

The Blackrock powerhouse is quiet and reserved by nature so he thought little of it when making an innocuous comment, only for Tom Morrissey to swiftly put him in his place.

"I said 'Hopefully we'll win this weekend' and Tom butted in in front of the whole group and said 'No Richie, we are going to win this weekend'" McCarthy says with a smile.

"Even me just saying 'hopefully', they'd no qualms and were going to win this weekend. It just changed my mindset then from that little conversation. I said it in a way that I didn't want to be getting carried away, but it just shows their mentality."

The frame of mind which Morrissey and Co carried during their younger days – when ending a 29-year wait for Munster minor success in 2013, followed by All-Ireland U-21 success two years later – carried over to secure Liam MacCarthy later that year.

A 45-year famine had ended, but while the younger brigade took every challenge in their stride, McCarthy recalls the days when the pinnacle seemed like a spot in the distance.

He name checks Currid – who has been a key part of All-Ireland successes with four different counties – and the barriers which she helped break down so that the Hogan Stand steps could eventually be climbed.

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Limerick's Richie McCarthy celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2018

Limerick's Richie McCarthy celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2018

Limerick's Richie McCarthy celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2018

"Caroline was very good to keep us grounded and make sure that we had no distractions in relation to previous teams that were unlucky. We were making our own path so there was point dwelling on the past," McCarthy says.

"For fellas like myself, we had so many unlucky days out. We lost two All-Ireland semi-finals in 2013 and ‘14 and they were gut-wrenching. Subconsciously, it was tough to get rid of those defeats. The older lads needed to talk to her to get old defeats out of the way, but it wasn't an issue for the younger lads at all."

McCarthy didn't start the 2018 All-Ireland final defeat of Galway but he finished it having come into the fray in the 50th minute when Mike Casey was forced off injured.

Joe Canning had a free to level it and complete a remarkable comeback deep into injury time, but McCarthy was intent on rewriting the future instead of being crippled by old scars.

"The one thing I thought about when that free was coming in was when we lost to Kilkenny in 2014, it was actually under very similar circumstances. They got a free out the field and Eoin Larkin or Richie Power got a flick to the net," he recalls.

"So when that free was coming in, I was thinking of making sure that that wasn't going to happen again."

Franny Forde was in the opposite camp that day as Galway's back-to-back bid went up in smoke, but he was one of many celebrating 12 months previous as the Tribesmen finally got the All-Ireland monkey off their backs after years of hurt.

Six final defeats since securing two-in-a-row in 1987-'88 had left many questioning their ability to get over the line on hurling’s grandest stage, but they took all before them in 2017 en route to a League, Leinster and All-Ireland title hat-trick.

Therein lay much of the reason why the pressure-cooker was not at the same heat for that final against Waterford as it had been in many of their other heart-breaking deciders.

"The fact that we were meeting another team in Waterford who were trying to end their famine might might have lessened the pressure. That took some of the weight off us," former coach Forde says.

"Had we gone into a final like we had in so many other years playing maybe a Kilkenny with all that brought with it in terms of the psychological burden of trying to beat Kilkenny in a final, it might have been greater.

"We had also been favourites for every game in 2017 so we had gradually learned to cope with the expectations going into games and we didn't have to focus on blocking it out."

Galway’s form was once considered to be as changeable as the weather, but they had developed unerring consistency under Micheál Donoghue with less peaks and troughs.

While unexpected brilliance had secured some final places in the past, "there was no shock result" this time and "we were happy with where we were at".

"We knew that Galway had the capacity to beat anyone on their day, but we did really focus on making sure that we performed every day. We trained really consistently, there was consistency in everything we did,” Forde says.

"That came from the lads and it was a philosophy that consistent training and not letting standards drop in training would lead to consistent performances on the field."

Other lengthy famines could be ended over the next seven days at GAA HQ as Waterford's hurlers and the footballers of Mayo bid to end decades of hardship and get their hands on the holy grail.

Both have made many lonely journeys back from the capital since reaching the promised land with Waterford last prevailing in 1959 while Mayo's wait is eight years longer and stretches back to '51.

They stand just over 70 minutes away as they bid to join other great famine busters like the Wexford heroes of 1996, who went from "serial losers" to champions under the stewardship of Liam Griffin.

Martin Storey led them to glory on that famous September afternoon when they were dancing at the crossroads after defeating Limerick, but the seeds were sown long before that in Leinster with epic victories over Kilkenny and Offaly.

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Francis Forde. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Francis Forde. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Francis Forde. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

"Liam Griffin was trying to get us to think in the sense of 'What's the difference between a Wexford hurler and a Kilkenny hurler?' The answer is absolutely nothing. We had to believe that," Storey says.

Once they made it to All-Ireland final day, Storey and Co felt invincible (even despite Eamonn Scallan's early sending off) when applying Griffin's methods to the letter of the law.

"We weren't nervous, we had absolutely no nerves. If you look at the rerun of '96, Limerick come out and one of them pulled across a flag and broke it. We jogged out, we didn't sprint out like madmen," Storey says.

"There was no point in burning your energy and adrenaline and Liam had us well told. He was using the traffic light system and the lights didn't go green until the ball was thrown in.

"There was no pressure on us because we were a novelty team, nobody gave us a chance and everyone thought Limerick were going bate the absolute blue sh*** out of us.

"Limerick were going back up to pick the cup up after throwing it away against Offaly two years previous so we we were under no pressure. The expectation wasn't there."

Storey sees huge parallels between their position as they ended a 28-year barren spell and glorious opportunity which awaits for Waterford on Sunday as they bid to end 61 years of pain.

"The pressure is on Limerick, not Waterford. This is an absolute bonus, this is like winning the Lotto in Waterford. Everyone was saying Waterford are going nowhere and Cork are going to beat the ears off them first day out," Storey adds.

"They have turned this season on its head and it's brilliant for hurling, it's lit up this championship. If they produce the second half that they did the last two days, any team will find it hard to live with them."

An inferiority complex can develop when the wait for silverware carries over lifetimes and that was the case before Clare finally banished the curse of Biddy Early in 1995.

The long, hot summer finished with the Banner scaling the mountain under Ger Loughnane, but only months before that Anthony Daly was considering calling time on his fledgling county career as he simply couldn’t contemplate another defeat.

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Clare captain Anthony Daly lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1995. Photo: Sportsfile

Clare captain Anthony Daly lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1995. Photo: Sportsfile

Clare captain Anthony Daly lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1995. Photo: Sportsfile

"It was nearly a do-or-die from my point of view, 25 years of age, I wasn’t going to go back with Clare if we lost and I said that I’d try and win another championship with Clarecastle and win a Munster club because we’d a team good enough," Daly says.

"Myself and ‘Fingers’ (PJ O’Connell) had the dinner together on the Thursday night and he said ‘Are you going back again next year for this torture if we lose again?’ ‘Jesus, no way’ I said. We were looking each other in the eye that night and saying ‘f*** no’."

Daly compares their plight to that of an addict and feels that "we nearly had to reach rock bottom and bottom out" before they could turn around their ailing fortunes.

The prospect of more Munster heartache was too much for many of their supporters that year, though.

"You couldn’t give away tickets to the Munster final, genuine hurling supporters had just said that they can’t take it anymore," Daly recalls.

He remembers the feeling of being "transformed as humans" after provincial success as "the Munster was our famine" and they drifted into an All-Ireland final with the pressure off.

The unique cocktail which Loughnane had put together brought 81 years of suffering to an end as Éamonn Taaffe’s late goal buried Offaly and Daly sees comparisons between his former mentor and Waterford boss Liam Cahill.

"I see similarities in Cahill’s approach to Loughnane. No bull****, no negativity, but gives it straight to you and then builds you up the week before the game and fills you full of confidence," Daly says.

Could history be about to repeat it itself with Waterford ending another famine or will their wait go on?

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