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‘Kilmallock are always at the forefront of my mind,’ admits O’Brien after Limerick disappointments

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Kilmallock hurler Paudie O'Brien at the AIB Munster GAA Hurling Senior Club Final Media Day in Portlaoise. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilmallock hurler Paudie O'Brien at the AIB Munster GAA Hurling Senior Club Final Media Day in Portlaoise. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilmallock hurler Paudie O'Brien at the AIB Munster GAA Hurling Senior Club Final Media Day in Portlaoise. Photo: Sportsfile

Back in October 2016, when Paudie O’Brien was dropped by John Kiely, Limerick hadn’t won an All-Ireland in 43 years.

Five years and some vain attempts to get back in later, they’ve won three Liam MacCarthy Cups.

After the best part of a decade hurling, and at just 26 years of age, O’Brien was cut adrift just as Limerick’s glory era was brewing. 

“You’re angry, you’re sad, you’re happy, you’re p***ed off and you’re resentful, it’s everything,” he recalls now.

“But when I look back on it myself now, I know I gave it absolutely everything. I’d like to think I got every inch out of myself.

“Like, I didn’t have a choice. So what’s not in my hands I can’t hold. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier. It is what it is, it takes a long time to get over it but I’ve plenty of closure on it now.”

The part that O’Brien draws solace from is knowing that during his inter-county career, he experienced the sort of oscillations; dizzying highs and crushing lows, which is traditionally associated with being a Limerick hurler.

But he is also quick to point out to himself that he had opportunities to win the big one.

“The other thing I think about is that I played in a quarter-final in ’11 and ’12, as well as a semi-final in ’13 and ’14. I did have my chances. It’s not like I had no influence on it.

“I was on teams that weren’t good enough and I just have to get over that and live with it.

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“If someone had told me when I was 10 or 11 or 12 that look, you’re going to play for Limerick for the bones of 10 years, sure you’d snap it up.

“If I had my time back I probably wouldn’t have done a whole lot different.”

It probably didn’t help that the most obvious target for his anger, John Kiely, has barely put a finger wrong over the past five years. That any questioning of his wisdom or judgment has been met with so many emphatic rebuttals.

“The buck stops with him really, and that’s it,” O’Brien stresses.

“Again, I would always judge someone on when you lose games more so than when you win and I was very impressed with him in the few times that they have lost.

“He speaks very well and the onus is always on them to go out and give a performance, and there’s no blaming X, Y or Z. They get on with things as best they can.

“It’s no secret that Paul Kinnerk does a lot of the coaching and it’s not a secret that they have very good selectors and a very well-oiled system from a management point of view.”

At 26, O’Brien did what anyone with unfinished business might. He went back to Kilmallock and started to play well enough in the hope of forcing Kiely into a rethink.

“I kind of went straight back into it. I had ambitions of going straight back onto the (Limerick) panel, I’d be very straight about that,” he admits.

“So there was only one way of doing that and it was by performing for my club.

“Even when I was playing for Limerick I was lucky enough to play for the bones of 10 years. Kilmallock were still very much at the forefront of my mind.

“That’s probably more of a reflection on Tony Considine because we’re very club-oriented and even for the county lads there’s an expectation.

“For me, I quickly turned my attention to Kilmallock. It’s always been very important to me, it means a hell of a lot.

“Whether I was with Limerick or not it was always nearly in the forefront of my mind.”

As he is now, O’Brien was one of the leaders of the side when they last won Munster back in 2014.

And then, as now, Ballyhale were the team to beat, a task Kilmallock failed to do in the following year’s All-Ireland final, when they succumbed by 12 points in one of those damp squib St Patrick’s Days that tend to happen with odd regularity.

“Of course it’s a huge regret,” O’Brien says. “We prepared unbelievably well, but we just froze and got caught by a very good team on the day. I’ve looked back at that game once and found it very hard to watch it back, because it’s a massive disappointment for the whole town and the families and what’s gone before you and what’s coming after you.

“It’s not what you want to be remembered for.”


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