Wednesday 11 December 2019

Board chiefs' positions untenable after sparking latest crisis

Refusal to retract incendiary, gung-ho criticism of team gave O'Grady no choice, writes Martin Breheny

Donal O'Grady and TJ Ryan of the Limerick managment team at the game
Donal O'Grady and TJ Ryan of the Limerick managment team at the game
The Limerick squad stand together for a traditional team photograph
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The big question prompted by Donal O'Grady's departure from Limerick is how far behind him will county board chairman Oliver Mann and secretary Mike O'Riordan be?

Even allowing for the fact that GAA politics has much in common with its Leinster House equivalent, where resignations are as rare as kept promises, it's impossible to rationalise how Mann and O'Riordan can credibly remain as Limerick's two principal officers after their role, however unwitting, in the county's latest mess. I pointed out here last Wednesday that O'Grady would have been fully justified in quitting Limerick, arising from incendiary comments delivered by O'Riordan and Mann to a county board meeting two weeks ago.

In fact, I was surprised that O'Grady was still in situ almost a week later. However, it has now emerged that he and his co-manager TJ Ryan thought a process was under way to retract, partially at least, the damning critique offered by O'Riordan and Mann in their account of a meeting held with the team management to assess the league campaign.

Delegates were told that management had "basically apologised for the performance against Offaly" which cost Limerick a point and ultimately promotion.

"They put their hands up," said O'Riordan, who also talked of Limerick supporters being "full of venom" after paying up to €20 to see an "abysmal" performance against Galway in the quarter-final.

Mann said that management were "very much aware of the way the GAA public in Limerick feel and they are also aware that the management of the county board was not happy with the performance during the league."

He added: "They were left in no doubt about that."

There was something very curious about the gung-ho remarks from the top table. The language was stark,uncompromising and certainly not conducive to a harmonious camp in the crucial weeks leading up to the Munster championship. It was more multi-million soccer club boardroom-speak than GAA post-league review.

Following further discussions, team management expected retractions and clarifications to be placed on the Limerick website. When nothing had happened by last weekend, O'Grady resigned, leaving Limerick returning to managerial chaos.

It's familiar territory for the county, although players and supporters probably thought those days were behind them after last year's summer surge saw the Munster title returning to Shannonside for the first time since 1996, under the patient guidance of John Allen.

By September, Allen was gone, slipping quietly back to Cork, thanking everyone in Limerick as he went.

By November, O'Grady was back for a second stint but after a league campaign where Limerick missed promotion by a point, they find themselves embroiled in yet another controversy, fuelled by remarks from the county's two leading administrators.

The irony is unmistakable. Even as Tipperary, who host the Munster champions in the provincial semi-final in Thurles on June 1, were expanding rapidly in the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday, the clock was ticking before the explosion of yet another Limerick bomb.

What the fallout will be remains to be seen but losing a co-manager, especially one as successful and as experienced as O'Grady, just six weeks before the championship smacks of unforgivable carelessness. Can the two men who played such a central role in precipitating the crisis remain in power?

More importantly, should they stay in power? It's difficult to make a case for them.

As for Limerick, they are lost again after regaining their identity on that glorious summer day last summer when they beat Cork in the Munster final.

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