Saturday 1 October 2016

Dublin, Antrim and the RUC - a hurling life less ordinary

Published 25/07/2015 | 02:30

Michael O’Grady was one of the architects of the ambitious and significant 2002 Dublin hurling review document
Michael O’Grady was one of the architects of the ambitious and significant 2002 Dublin hurling review document

When Michael O'Grady insists the transformation of Dublin hurling is "beyond his wildest dreams" it means something.

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After all O'Grady was one of the architects of 2002 Dublin hurling review document that set out the way forward for the small ball game in the county which, among other things, aimed at making hurling the most played sport in the county in just eight years.

Things haven't quite worked out that way but he still looks back at the progress made with a sense of disbelief. Dublin teams have won All-Ireland Feiles and colleges titles. County underage teams have won Leinster and reached All-Ireland finals.

And as such, the discourse around Dublin hurling has changed immeasurably. Already this year they have beaten Laois and Limerick in the championship but defeat to Waterford tomorrow and there'll be grumbles of discontent in the county. Horizons have been pushed back. Dublin hurling have moved from just existing to expecting.

"Some of the things in it, people probably thought they were mad," O'Grady recalls.

"It was a very significant document at the time. I suppose there was a lot of work going on then but not all of it was organised and that got the ball rolling.

"Dermot Healy, the former Offaly manager, came in and he did great work in his couple of years. There are football clubs fielding hurling teams now. It's actually stunning the number of players playing hurling now. I'm not saying it's the reason for all of this. There have been other documents since and the people in Parnell Park have been doing some great things."

O'Grady's time in hurling has swept him to the four corners of the country. He's a Limerick native whose life has brought him to Wexford, Tipperary and Dublin.

Those experiences have been broad and at times bizarre. There was a stint with the Antrim hurlers. When the late Jim Nelson asked him to lend a hand and come on board, he couldn't refuse. They had a good team then. Good enough to beat Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final when O'Grady was on the line as Nelson's assistant.

Around that time, the excitement in Antrim grew as they prepared for Tipperary and Nicky English in the final. And as their profiles rose the players would be routinely stopped by security forces on their way to training.

"That was the way of things at the time. You just got on with it."

But Nelson was a man of means. After all he had managed to persuade the then Wexford-based O'Grady to make the long trip north to help out. And for the final, he found himself in the stand in Croke Park acting as Nelson's eye in the sky armed with an RUC walkie-talkie.

"I don't know how he did it. Jim had a contact. This was long before managers are wired up as you see them now. And I had this high powered walkie talkie in the stands. We were well beaten by Tipperary but it was a great time. We had a reunion last year, thankfully most of that team are still hale and hearty."

For the record, O'Grady reckons that team would have more than held its own in Munster or anywhere else for that matter. And he still spends time in Antrim when he gets the chance.

Fond

And as much as he has fond memories from his time in various places, it's Dublin that has snared him most. His involvement now is with Lucan Sarsfields and the Dublin camogs where he helps out manager Shane O'Brien. Their season could yet be ended on a coin toss.

The 'Friends of Dublin hurling' society takes up a lot of his time too. They'll run three buses to Semple Stadium on Sunday. They were involved too in the county's Poc Fada and they recently gave €2,000 to the scheme that sees county hurlers take coaching sessions with the best young hurlers in Dublin.

The idea is simple. Throwing the stars of today and tomorrow should help create a legacy and ensure there's no slipping back into the abyss.

For now, Dublin have the chance to get to another All-Ireland semi-final.

"The game against Galway was a real low. But they beat Limerick and I think they are on the way back up. And at just the right time too. Dublin had a good chance of getting back to another semi-final"

There was a time you wouldn't have dreamt it.

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