Saturday 20 January 2018

Players badly betrayed in latest Limerick farce

Bizarre row highlights county's habit of shooting itself in the foot

TJ Ryan (left) faces a huge task as he tries to galvanise Limerick's players for the championship following the departure of Donal O'Grady
TJ Ryan (left) faces a huge task as he tries to galvanise Limerick's players for the championship following the departure of Donal O'Grady
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

On Sunday night, long after a great hurling throng had slipped out of the Gaelic Grounds, Donal O'Grady and TJ Ryan sat deep in conversation on the steps of the Mackey Stand.

Their presence drew some playful jibes from the nearby press-box, where it was innocently assumed that their preoccupation had become a Tipperary team suddenly finding irresistible form. That assumption, of course, would not survive the evening.

Some Limerick players, reputedly, first heard of O'Grady's resignation through local media reports, and the picture since has been simple pantomime.

A county board executive strangely mistaking themselves for corporate businessmen. A joint-manager taking natural umbrage and, thus, a flurry of finger-pointing perhaps best summed up by Jerome O'Connell in this week's 'Limerick Leader' as "semantics".

But the really curious thing is that O'Grady engaged with the process so formally, so laboriously when having access to a newspaper column of his own in which he could instantly have set the record straight.

He might, of course, argue that he was simply following 'proper procedure'.


But what does that mean in a world of volunteer managers and predominantly amateur county board officials?

Did the Limerick executive mistake him for some kind of employee? If so, why?

From the outside looking in, the fundamentals of the conflict seem preposterously trivial.

Limerick had a disappointing league, for which the county executive claimed management had "basically apologised".

Now the notion of an apology being considered either necessary or indeed appropriate seemed instantly absurd when this story first went public.

If the county executive reckoned otherwise, O'Grady was within his rights to pour instant public scorn on their delusion.

He is better known than any county board official in Ireland and universally respected, having taken Cork hurlers from the picket line to becoming arguably the best-prepared team in the county's history. He helped fire-fight a previous period of turmoil in Limerick, too, and is sought after across the hurling landscape because of what he represents.

If Donal O'Grady is known for one thing it is for calm, adult judgment.

Yet, bizarrely, he seems to have allowed himself become entangled in the faintly comedic process of studying "draft statements of clarification" when the situation surely demanded an instant show of managerial authority.

And so, yet again, the Limerick players are left to gape in wonder.

The best team in Munster last year, they now lose a joint-manager for no palpably intelligent reason.

Worse, they find themselves pitched back into an atmosphere of dysfunction in the very week their looming championship opponents flex impressive muscle.

One of the most remarkable GAA books of recent times was Henry Martin's 'Unlimited Heartbreak – The Inside Story of Limerick Hurling.'

It was remarkable not just for the openness of those interviewed, but for the raw language used to convey that candour.

It seems unimaginable that such a book could have made it onto the shelves from any other major hurling county.

Personal animosities were freely aired as the author picked his way through stories of perpetual conflict and recrimination.

Martin's achievement in getting so many central figures to reject the refuge of diplomacy or – in many instances – even simple courtesies, paints a picture of wild, unrelenting angst within the ecosystem of the county hurling team.

It was published in 2009, a season that ended with Limerick shipping a 24-point hiding against Tipperary in Croke Park. This would be followed by the infamous 'lost year' of Justin McCarthy's final campaign in charge.

One of the author's concluding assessments suggests "Limerick is now staring into an abyss. And how it responds to this defeat will say a lot about its character and its future as a hurling county."

And, as we know, Limerick did not respond well.

Yet, for all this internal strife, last year's senior Munster victory was not some kind of stunning aberration in their modern history with the game.

Limerick is currently fertile ground for exceptional hurlers. Their county champions, Na Piarsaigh, have won two of the last three Munster club titles; Ardscoil Ris three of the last five Harty Cup competitions.

Like their seniors, Limerick's minors are current Munster champions.

So the hurlers keep coming through, but do so in a county environment seemingly programmed for discord.

TJ Ryan will be as sick of this history of recidivism as anyone, yet he has chosen to stay and try to galvanise a strong title defence.

Should he succeed, the board might wisely desist from any glad-handing.


Mourinho's nonsense should not take shine off thrilling title run-in

How terribly, wearyingly predictable that Jose Mourinho this weekend dominates the Premier League narrative even as Chelsea drift to third favourites in a three-horse title race.

Miffed that his players will have just under 78 hours to prepare for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg (two more than opponents Atletico Madrid will enjoy), Mourinho spins the illusion of dark forces conspiring against him.

This penal schedule has, he implies, exhausted his team, potentially forcing him to field only fringe players against Liverpool tomorrow.

The ambiguity of Premier League rules may even facilitate such a farce, which – if it transpires – surely drags the league itself into disrepute. Imagine one of the most thrilling title races in history being asterisked by the hubris of one man.

If Mourinho cannot win the Premier League, it would seem he would like to be remembered for conceding the title rather than losing it.

This on the eve of going to a stadium where Manchester City, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham – the next four in the table – have bled a combined total of 16 goals this season.

Sound like a victim to you?


Do we really need a new Pairc Ui Chaoimh?

What nice artists' impressions there are of the new 45,000-capacity Pairc Ui Chaoimh that was granted planning permission this week.

The old stadium is a rotting skeleton of crumbling stonework and abject design that won't be broadly mourned.

The new one? Well it looks marvellous, as it undoubtedly should with a €70m price-tag.

But just one question. In a province already well served by major stadia, is another really necessary?

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport