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Michael O’Grady is a forever friend of city craft

A lifetime in hurling has given many days to cherish and recall

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Michael O'Grady pictured during his time as Dublin Hurling manager in 1997. Credit: Sportsfile

Michael O'Grady pictured during his time as Dublin Hurling manager in 1997. Credit: Sportsfile

Michael O'Grady pictured during his time as Dublin Hurling manager in 1997. Credit: Sportsfile

Patrickswell, a hurling heartland of Limerick. Tales of Mick Mackey. Filling the children with dreams.

That’s where Michael O’Grady was reared. Ten children in the family, five boys, five girls. They’d walk four miles to school in Adare, and walk home again. “Unless you were lucky and got a lift from one of the farmers going to the creamery. On a donkey and cart.”

One day after school, Michael was hurling away on his own in the school field. “An oil lorry pulled up. A man came in carrying a hurley and asked me did I want to hit a few balls.

“The next morning, Brother Dwane asked me did I know who I was playing hurling with last night. I said I didn’t. He replied; ‘Christy Ring.’”

On another day, a representative of the Christian Brothers called, looking for recruits. Michael joined. He was only 13. “I had never been in Dublin.

“But we were told to get the train to Dublin. A bus into town, and the 46A to Baker’s Corner, near Dean’s Grange.

“It was Carriglea Park. We were well looked after. Well educated. Good meals. It was a strict routine. But we had hurling every day. And that’s what made my day.

“We’d some good hurlers. From all over the country. The Dublin minors came out for a challenge. We beat them. And they went on to win the All-Ireland.”

Drimnagh Castle was his first appointment. “The Moran family bought a shop, The Coconut, beside the school. Great, great people. At six o’clock in the evening, Kevin would knock on the Monastery door and ask for me. And out I’d go and hit a few shots with him in the field. He was a lovely hurler.”

Michael’s work brought him to different counties. “I always said I’d give teams a hand, if they wanted me.”

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He went to Cashel. He managed Tipperary to the 1976 All-Ireland minor Hurling title. “We couldn’t believe it. We didn’t have any expectations.”

They played Cork in the Munster semi-final in Limerick. The county board official forgot the jerseys. “I went out to my own club, Patrickswell, and borrowed a set of jerseys. They also played in the blue and gold.”

O’Grady then managed the Tipp seniors to the National League title. He was in Dublin then. “I’d travel down on a Friday night in heavy traffic, and on a Sunday.

“Babs Keating was managing the Tipp U-21’s. I’d often go with him. He’d drive. He knew all the shortcuts. Well before it was fashionable, he had a mobile phone in the car. And he’d put me on to the jockey, Christy Roche, for a chat.”

Michael went back to study at UCD. Managing the college to two Fitzgibbon Cup titles. “We had inter-county players that couldn’t get on the team. We had brilliant hurlers like Matt Ruth, Jack Ryan and Eamonn O’Shea.”

He also guided Limerick to the National League. And when based in Wexford, he had a couple of spells with the county. He says his biggest regret was when he was managing Limerick and losing to Cork in the Munster semi-final.

“It was 1984. Centenary year. We had a good team that year. Things just didn’t go right against Cork and they went onto win the All-Ireland in Thurles.”

Michael was involved in the 1989 All-Ireland final with Antrim. “Jim Nelson rang me. We beat Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final. A shock. The Offaly players applauded us off the field.

“I was in the stand, communicating with Jim on a walkie-talkie we got from the RUC! After the game, I got a pat on the shoulder. I looked around. It was Seán Boylan. He said ‘well done.’

Eventually, he was to leave the Christian Brothers. “I enjoyed my time. It was an interesting life.”

Some years later, the phone rang. Again. It was John Bailey, Chairman of the Dublin County Board. “I always got on well with John. He asked me to become Dublin hurling manager. I told him Babs would be ideal for that job. Anyhow, I became manager.

“And it was the happiest spell I ever had. With Tommy Naughton and John Thompson. The players were so genuine. Great characters.

“We were in Division 2. I told them if we got promotion, we’d go to the Canaries for a week. They did it. And I was saying to myself, what do I do now! We had no money!

“But John Costello was very good to us. And we arranged a big fund-raising dinner. Brian McMahon was playing for us. He worked with Dublin Bus, and, without any charge, they brought everyone home at 2 o’clock in the morning.

“We had a great week in the Canaries. We trained at 8 am. John Thompson would have them running up the eighty steps from the beach. And we’d have the rest of the day off.”

It was the era before mobile phones. Sometimes, the players would have to ring Michael. Michael’s wife, Irene, would answer. “Irene is from America. The players couldn’t understand her accent, and she couldn’t understand theirs,” he smiles.

When he finished with the Dubs, John Bailey called again. Asking Michael to be among those to produce a Blueprint for Dublin Hurling.

He became a pivotal figure in the Friends of Dublin Hurling. He has written a book on Jimmy Gray – ‘Under the Bluest Sky.’ It’s in book shops and on Amazon.

He’s optimistic for Dublin hurling. “The big change I see is the numbers playing. I live in Lucan and I see boys and girls on their bikes, with their hurleys. It reminds me of back home. When I was growing up.”


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