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O'Grady says the Treaty men must learn from 'sucker punch' lesson in 2007

FOR the vast majority of this Limerick hurling team, now just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final, the obvious Croke Park reference point is last year's semi-final failure against Clare.

For skipper Donal O'Grady, however, there is another harrowing HQ occasion that underlines the pressing need for Limerick to be in the zone from the minute the ball is thrown in.

The 2007 All-Ireland final. The day a ruthless Kilkenny - their semi-final opponents this Sunday - burst the bubble inside 10 devastating minutes.

"The main thing for us is to try not to concede goals," says O'Grady. "The last time I played Kilkenny in Croke Park, we had two conceded in the first 10 minutes, two sucker punches to take.

"We can't let Kilkenny get a foothold like that in the game."

The hope on Shannonside, of course, is that this year's model are more ready for such an onslaught and also that Kilkenny aren't quite the force of old. Back in 2007 they led 2-3 to no score before Limerick had time to breathe, Eddie Brennan and Henry Shefflin delivering the double-whammy of goals from which they never fully recovered.


Twice they got back within five, but never closer, and it ended in 
seven-point defeat.

O'Grady was at the vanguard of Limerick's resistance, scoring two points from midfield, but the only other starting survivor from '07 is Seamus Hickey. Niall Moran came off the bench that day; Wayne McNamara and Gavin O'Mahony were unused subs.

"I can remember it being an unbelievable occasion for Limerick. They hadn't been in one since 1996 
and it was a long time," O'Grady points out.

He'll never forget the roar of the Limerick crowd as they emerged from the tunnel.

"It was unbelievable," he recalls. "We spoke about it and the atmosphere and not to let it get to you, but it was virtually impossible not to have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. It was a great feeling - but it didn't last too long."

That's what Kilkenny can do to you.

"On reflection, Kilkenny were ruthless in their approach to that match. It shows how mentally strong a team they were. They went for the jugular early and killed whatever hope we had. It was definitely a big learning experience," he confirms.


O'Grady, the elder statesman of TJ Ryan's Limerick at 34, missed the recent quarter-final against Wexford with a calf injury but is now back in full training for Sunday's tilt at the Cats.

He has been encouraged by Limerick's more than decent scoring returns this summer (2-18 against Tipp, 0-24 against Cork and 4-26 against Wexford) ... but then comes the caveat.

"Kilkenny bring a whole new element in the sense that I don't think we'll have the same space," the Granagh/Ballingarry clubman warns. "We'll have to work harder than them."

For the current group, however, last year's semi-final against Clare is the game that sticks in the memory.

"They didn't let us play well, that was the simple fact of the matter," O'Grady maintains.

"We were coming off the back of winning the Munster championship, with a great confidence and buzz, and we really believed that we could get to the All-Ireland final.


"In the space of 75 minutes that was all wiped away. We went from the highs of playing in Croke Park, in with a chance of getting to the final, to the lows of opportunity lost.

"Most of the lads were either playing or involved that day. The hurt of that day should be a motivation in itself. It's hard enough to get back to a 
semi-final and to be within 70-75 minutes of a possible final again. Hopefully the experience of last year can help us."

This year, minus the same rampant expectation, Limerick enter the cauldron in a better place. "Obviously the hype isn't there, playing Kilkenny, and that's a testament to them. The general feeling among the Limerick supporters is 'Fair enough, ye're in the All-Ireland semi-final' but a lot of people would say 'Ah, ye'll give it a go, ye'll give it a rattle, ye'll make a game of it - but ye won't beat them.'"

Point to prove. Time to prove it.