Sport Hurling

Saturday 21 April 2018

O'Grady exit leaves Ryan with mountain to climb

Last summer's glory days a distant memory as Limerick plunged into chaos

Former Limerick joint manager Donal O'Grady
Former Limerick joint manager Donal O'Grady
Limerick joint managers Donal O'Grady, left, and TJ Ryan in conversation
Limerick manager TJ Ryan in amongst his players
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Last August the Gaelic Grounds was blanketed in green and white and grown men openly wept after Limerick won their first Munster senior hurling title in 17 years.

It was a glorious day and seemed to indicate that, after some rocky years, the Treaty County was once again ready to sup at hurling's top table.

To cap it off, nine days later, their minors also won Munster, beating Waterford in a thrilling replay to clinch a provincial double they had last achieved in 1940.

An infamous Hawk-Eye incident, followed by a fractious and unsuccessful appeal, subsequently broke their minors' hearts and their seniors bowed out, by seven points, to Clare but hope, and a prestigious title, had been restored.

Manager John Allen surprised many by standing down after his successful two-year spell.

It was rumoured that Limerick pursued All-Ireland winning former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy but it was the joint ticket of TJ Ryan and Donal O'Grady who took over.

Ryan made it clear that, apart from their general collaboration, he would deal with the board and logistics, while O'Grady would concentrate on the coaching.

Now, less than six weeks before starting their Munster title defence against Tipperary on June 1, Limerick hurling has been pitched into its latest crisis.

FAILURE

The blame, not for the first time, has landed squarely at the county board's door. Failure to win promotion, for the fourth year in a row, was a bad blow, despite the fact that their second place in Division 1B earned them a quarter-final spot.

A draw with Offaly was particularly costly and they went on to play badly in that quarter-final loss to Galway.

They left the Gaelic Grounds dispirited but, given their problems (the absence of their Na Piarsaigh contingent during their club run and long-term injuries to Declan Hannon, David Breen and Seamus Hickey), no crisis was apparent.

Limerick were still Munster champions with the financial backing of one of Ireland's richest men (JP McManus), and good players were due to return.

Now, suddenly, there is a crisis.

It is not unusual for county board officials to have a post-league appraisal with their management team, as happened in Rathkeale on April 3.

But what caused huge surprise and this sudden impasse were the public statements that Limerick chairman Oliver Mann and secretary Mike O'Riordan made, about that pow-wow, at their subsequent county board meeting.

There are few hurling coaches in the country as respected as O'Grady.

Back in 2010, when Limerick were trying to recover from a divisive split, the man who coached Cork to a famous All-Ireland final victory over Kilkenny in 2003 came to their aid.

Their players immediately raved about O'Grady's expertise and, under his stewardship, they reached a Division 2 final where they beat Clare, were pipped by Waterford in Munster but reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals, where they lost to Dublin.

Eyebrows were raised particularly this month when O'Riordan used phrases such as "defending the indefensible" and "disgusted" and "abysmal" about some of Limerick's league performances and told delegates that management had "apologised for the performance against Offaly in particular."

The team managers had a meeting with the officers three days later seeking a retraction, particularly for the suggestion that they had "apologised" for anything.

They say they were told that a statement "withdrawing the untrue statement while clarifying others" was to appear on the county board's website next day. It did not appear, which is why O'Grady stepped down late on Sunday.

The players were informed by email and O'Grady said he "regretfully, has no other option but to step down."

The statement added that "as upcoming fixtures are in place, TJ Ryan will continue in his managerial role in the interim, in the interests of continuity."

This is not the first time that this county executive has been in the firing line. Their pursuit of a lengthy appeal for their minors last summer, after the Hawk-Eye cock-up, while laudably loyal, attracted some criticism on the basis that they were always likely to lose it and only created false hope for the youngsters.

Last winter there was a particularly bizarre row over who would manage Limerick's intermediate hurlers.

The five-man committee charged with finding a suitable candidate recommended Tom Ryan, the outspoken former county manager who managed Limerick to two All-Ireland senior finals in the '90s.

The county executive would not appoint him and, after a long-running dispute, a most unusual solution was found: five selectors (including Ryan) were appointed to run the team but, technically, there is no manager.

O'Grady clearly felt he had been undermined by the executive and walked. TJ Ryan, initially, has chosen to stay on.

His decision leaves him in a difficult position. Limerick's next game is expected to be a challenge match, against Cork, in Charleville, next Saturday but Tipp loom large on the horizon.

Irish Independent

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