Limerick hopes on ropes as bitter fall-out cuts deep
With the war of words over the departure of Donal O'Grady as joint-manager of the Limerick hurling team gathering intensity, there are real fears within the county that the controversy could totally undermine the championship campaign.
The row has dominated the GAA headlines since Sunday night and just when the Limerick County Board thought the worst was over, both O'Grady and TJ Ryan tossed further incendiaries into the volatile mix. Ryan served as joint-manager with O'Grady since last November and has now taken over the top job.
O'Grady claimed yesterday that efforts were being made to discredit him over the manner of his resignation. Despite being confirmed as sole manager on Tuesday, Ryan has taken a swipe at the county board.
"I firmly believe that Donal O'Grady and I acted correctly in pursuing a retraction from the county board in connection with comments made concerning an apology regarding league performance," said Ryan.
"The county board have only now corrected this. We were both fully involved in this situation and it is unfair to point the finger at Donal O'Grady as we are not to blame for this. We both felt that arbitration was unnecessary. All that was required was a one-line statement."
His obvious unhappiness over the manner in which senior county board officers have conducted various aspects of the affair is hardly conducive to launching the sort of championship challenge expected of defending provincial champions.
Ryan described events of the past two weeks as "regrettable and untimely for Limerick hurling."
O'Grady returned to the fray, following a statement from Limerick County Board which implied that he notified Oliver Mann (chairman) of his decision to resign by voicemail.
The statement also claimed that efforts to sort out the problems which arose from comments made at a board meeting earlier this month ran into difficulties because of O'Grady's reluctance to agree on the wording or to "engage with a third party intermediary to finalise an agreed statement."
It also noted that O'Grady chose "to resign his position and informed the chairman by voicemail on Sunday night."
O'Grady was particularly annoyed over the voicemail comment, believing it to be an attempt to discredit him. He explained that he left a voicemail on Mann's phone because he couldn't contact him initially but that he called back some minutes later and had "a very cordial conversation".
O'Grady was surprised that there was no reference to the conversation in the Board statement, which gave the clear impression that he had made no personal contact to relay his decision.
"That was an effort to discredit me as it would show a total lack of respect on my behalf to the chairman Oliver Mann. I want to refute that," he said. O'Grady said that team management were anxious from the start of the controversy to have claims that they had apologised for aspects of the league campaign retracted.
"The whole issue is because of the language used at the county board meeting. It's the job of team management to protect the players at all times. We were set down as having apologised.
"If you're apologising, it implies that you're agreeing that they (the players) served up abysmal displays. We said all along that we took full responsibility for the way the team played.
"We wanted to get that message out there as quickly as possible. We didn't want the confidence in the camp to be undermined. It was the board officers who suggested that they put out a statement retracting that we had apologised.
"We left the meeting feeling that was the end of it. The last thing that we wanted was to drag this thing out but as the weeks went on the goalposts seemed to be shifting," said O'Grady.
Ryan has agreed to continue as manager for the championship but is unhappy with the troublesome series of events.
"Myself and Donal worked very well together. It is regrettable this issue could not have been sorted out immediately. My focus now is to ensure that, along with Paul Beery and Mark Lyons, the best preparation is put in place for the Munster championship. It is the very least the players deserve," he said. Ryan will have his first outing as sole manager when Limerick play Cork in a challenge game in Charleville on Saturday. It will be the start of a five-week countdown to the Munster semi-final clash with Tipperary in Thurles on June 1.
It now remains to be seen what impact the unrest will have on Limerick in their bid to retain the Munster title for the first time since 1981. History has shown that pre-championship controversies usually damage a team's prospects.
Losing a joint-manager of O'Grady's expertise and experience has to be a major negative, especially since the fall-out continues to attract unwelcome attention on Limerick.