Limerick desperate for inspirational boss to break habit of a lifetime
Published 22/07/2011 | 05:00
Two of the four managers involved in Sunday's All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals are immersed in their fourth consecutive championship campaigns with their current counties, another is in his third year in charge.
Yet the only certainty about the future of any of the quartet surrounds the manager with the least time punched in.
Donal O'Grady has always been adamant that this will be his one and only year in charge of the Limerick senior hurling team.
When he took the job initially it was for one season; prior to the start of the league it was still only for one season -- and there has been nothing since to suggest that his position will change.
Unless he breaks the habit of a lifetime and does something he said he wouldn't do, Limerick will be searching for a new manager again once their interest in the championship expires.
It's a scenario the county simply must avoid if they are to remain on the path of progress they have discovered over the last seven months.
Remember, they were already two months into the search and the three-man committee -- former Limerick hurlers Damien Quigley and Paudie Fitzmaurice and Dairygold ceo Jim Woulfe -- had interviewed several candidates before O'Grady entered the race in September last year.
It had been a laborious and somewhat fruitless process up to that.
Perhaps Limerick's best chance of retaining the services of O'Grady beyond 2011 is to lose to Dublin on Sunday.
Why? Because any further progress beyond a quarter-final will perhaps lead to a firmer conviction that his work is done.
As manager, his only goal was to set in place the proper structures for recovery and improvement. Talk of titles or reaching a certain level was never discussed.
Having Ciaran Carey, TJ Ryan and Pat Heffernan on board as selectors was akin to offering an apprenticeship scheme to three recent past players, a platform from which to learn. From the comfortable distance of last September it looked like a system that could work.
Now, much closer to the witching hour, there is doubt. The permutations are many. Which of the three would be the anointed successor if O'Grady does stick to his commitment of one year and one year only?
If one is promoted above the others, would it lead to factions developing within the county?
And just because they are junior counsel working under one of the most approved senior counsels at the bar, does it mean that they are ready to take a big case themselves?
O'Grady has cultivated a habit of being brief in his exposure to the teams he has taken charge of.
With Cork he agreed to two years in 2003 and when they won the All-Ireland in '04 he was out. No one doubted that even if they lost, he would have made the same decision.
When he took charge of Cloyne, the club team of Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Donal Og Cusack in Cork in '08, it was for a year and even when success didn't follow, he stuck to those initial terms of appointment.
He is not one to get bogged down chasing a dream that may not necessarily be attainable.
In essence O'Grady has become hurling's No 1 receiver with his work in Cork and Limerick in the wake of bitter player-board divides. Cleaning up and restructuring with an insistence that a clean slate be drawn has been his forte.
He has provided a very steady hand in Limerick and has been fortunate that there has been no lingering issue between the 2009 and 2010 squads at any stage.
In the dressing-room the lost year is long forgotten and O'Grady's stewardship has been a contributory factor.
Quigley, one of the three-man committee who recommended O'Grady, reiterated that the agreement was for 12 months only and, at the time, that suited all sides.
"Our sole brief was to make an appointment and to help the support structures around him. It was for 12 months and if it didn't work out well, fine, he could walk away and there would be no hoo-ha about it. And there has been lot of that down the years in Limerick.
"Anything beyond that has not been spoken of and I don't think it is appropriate to speak of it until Limerick's business in the championship is complete."
But Quigley does acknowledge the progress and development that has taken place under his watch.
"Limerick people see a future now. They see structure and organisation. We were coming from a very bleak place frankly," he admitted.
"You will see a big Limerick crowd in Thurles on Sunday," he predicted.
"In Kevin Downes, Declan Hannon and Tom Condon you see perfect examples of that development under Donal."
Downes and Hannon are both 19-year-olds who have come off the Ardscoil Ris conveyor belt and, under O'Grady's wing, have flourished quickly.
Downes has an instinct to seek goal before point, Hannon is a classy, elegant half-forward, almost atypical of the type of hurler Limerick produce. Condon's ball-carrying ability out of defence has been a feature of Limerick's summer.
What Quigley likes most about this new breed is that they expect to win at all times.
O'Grady has achieved everything that he would have expected to achieve so far -- promotion from Division 2 of the league, competitiveness in the Munster championship and a couple of wins in the qualifiers against teams they would feel they are ahead of.
But if he is to honour his commitment and leave after one year, can the structures he has built realistically stay in place?
For the trio in waiting, momentum could be difficult. So, regardless of Sunday's result, the clamour for him to stay will resonate loudly.
A 12-month agreement was the carrot to lure him in, but now such brevity could cause as many problems as it solved.