Limerick need to act fast after Donal O'Grady's surprising decision to move on, writes Dermot CroweNO doubt Donal O'Grady found enough persuasive reasons to depart Limerick, and he had that one-year clause, yet the decision still comes as something of a shock and invites questions as to whether all was as well as it seemed.
Clearly, the players felt he would remain, although they couldn't be certain; they were closest to him in a relationship that was characterised as professional but not intimate. That is the way he manages. They last met after the Dublin endgame in Thurles and those who listened to what he had to say, seeking clues as to his longer-term intentions, were inclined to believe he would extend his stay.
From the outset he had clearly stipulated one year and no more, offering Limerick good stabilising governance and a way out of the chaos that preceded his arrival -- a new beginning, but just that, a beginning. But the impression is hard to avoid that here was a painter leaving the easel with the work only half completed and what artist could do that? There had to be more to it. It seemed too clinical, the message relayed to the players by text.
They had made progress and he had managed to draw a hugely positive response from the players. Granted the Division Two league win had been crudely devalued by dubious reformists being wise after the event, but the team hurled brightly and showed enough promise to encourage the architect of that change and improvement to stay on board and continue the good work. Those are the natural instincts of a man like O'Grady who thrives in improving teams and getting the best out of them. He had to feel the best is yet to come and the losses to Waterford and Dublin in the championship are gnawing regrets that only persistence could have remedied next season.
"Maybe he didn't want pressure from players trying to get him to stay," the Limerick hurler Donal O'Grady reasons. "If it was up to me, I would say come back straight away. We trained three days coming up to the Dublin game and we had a great chat in the dressing room after. He said thanks for the year, said it was a pleasure, things had gone great, but it was disappointing today. When he was with us he was very hands-on and in touch with every player but he wasn't there outside of training, there wasn't that contact.
"It's a pity from our point of view as it worked out a lot better than a lot of people thought. Limerick were back on track, and another year would bring us on in leaps and bounds. Genuinely, I thought it was joke first, then Tom Condon rang me and said 'Jesus, he's gone' and I said 'yeah'. A few days before he left he was supposed to be getting an extra two-year term and then he wasn't. I thought he might stay for another year seeing the potential."
There was an unconfirmed report that O'Grady would have considered an extension if he had been allowed appoint his own selectors though he flatly denied this. How much the decision to reform the league had on his decision is not known but it is hardly in itself a sufficient reason to see him leave the position. The Dublin match is his deepest regret because it is a hurdle they looked capable of crossing and elements of his possession game unravelled on the day.
For the most part the change in style worked, however, and he was effective in carrying out the transition over a relatively short space of time. In the Dublin game there were times when Limerick took too much out of the ball or over-elaborated and Dublin wriggled off the hook. But tactically, as well, it wasn't a good day for Limerick or O'Grady.
The positioning of Seamus Hickey at full-back and Brian Geary at six backfired -- Hickey was positioned on the basis of a good performance against Offaly in a challenge match before the championship and Geary's legs were slowing. Dublin targeted both positions; using Alan McCrabbe to run Geary, and planting Ryan O'Dwyer on Hickey. They scored three goals and that effectively won the match. To add salt to
the wounds, Dublin is not a team renowned for goalscoring. All the more reason for O'Grady to remain there to apply corrective remedies in the new season. You learn. Even Donal O'Grady, and he has more forgotten than most will ever learn, is still learning lessons like those.
Limerick County Board meets on Tuesday and it is imperative that they make the right choice and move on it without too much delay. A year ago Limerick began their gym programme in October -- that is not too far away -- and their strength and physical conditioning is still trailing behind many of the other leading hurling counties. The outgoing selectors, Ciarán Carey, TJ Ryan and Pat Heffernan may be contenders to succeed O'Grady and it is believed that some or all have designs on the vacancy.
"There was a great unity there. It was enjoyable," says O'Grady, the hurler. "Tough training and very disciplined and very organised. Everyone bought into it. Hopefully the person who comes in can continue that. It's different ideas again. The important thing now is to get the right man who has the same level of professionalism."
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