Sport Hurling

Saturday 21 April 2018

Rebels and Limerick top 'trouble and strife' league table

Managerial mayhem seems commonplace for Munster pair – but they are not alone

Limerick sacked manager Tom Ryan in 1997 despite winning the Allianz Hurling League title
Limerick sacked manager Tom Ryan in 1997 despite winning the Allianz Hurling League title
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

This evening's senior hurling tournament game between Limerick and Cork in Charleville may be no more than a pre-championship tuner but in the context of managerial conflict it could be classified as an All-Ireland final.

For when it comes to management problems, Cork and Limerick are unquestioned market leaders in producing bitter rows and deep-rooted intransigence. That's quite some notoriety in a busy arena where most counties have fielded strong selections on occasions over the years.

Limerick's managerial difficulties have stretched back to 1997 when, despite winning the Allianz Hurling League (Division 1) title, manager, Tom Ryan was removed. He had also delivered Munster titles in 1994 and 1996 but it didn't matter. Important people on the county board wanted him out. And so he went.

Limerick have had several managerial spats since then, the latest of which erupted on Sunday when joint boss Donal O'Grady quit. He is the second Corkman to have become embroiled in a row in Limerick, following the stand-off between most of the top players and Justin McCarthy in 2010. That row left Limerick fielding a largely second-string team, with inevitable results in what was a seasonal wipe-out.

It's ironic that two Corkman have been involved in disputes in Limerick. But then, Cork has been pretty fertile territory for trouble and strife, as instanced by the footballers' and hurlers' strikes in 2008 and 2009.

While Cork and Limerick may lead the unfortunate roll of dishonour for managerial problems, they have several enthusiastic rivals. But then, times have changed in the GAA.

The phenomenal growth in the power of the manager has been accompanied by a proportional increase in the potential for strife. It can be caused by a manager who wants too much power, a county board leadership which conducts its business poorly or players who seek to divert blame from themselves.

Sometimes, it's a mixture of all three but, whatever the origin, it can have a toxic impact on a county.

Take Limerick, for example. Nine months ago, it was in heavenly orbit after the Munster title breakthrough; now they are anticipating the worst for the championship. What's more, the expectation is likely to be realised.

The players have remained stoically calm – publicly at least – since the latest outbreak of war but they must be utterly disgusted with what has happened. This isn't a row about resources, facilities, schedules or any other major issue which can lob mischief into the mix. No, this is essentially over loose talk and the interpretation of words and phrases.

County secretary Mike O'Riordan told a county board meeting that the team management had apologised for the performance against Offaly, which cost Limerick promotion. O'Riordan also referred to "abysmal" displays and spoke of angry supporters venting their frustrations after the league quarter-final defeat by Galway.

O'Grady and Ryan insist there was no question of apologising because that would have implied that they accepted that some of the performances were "abysmal".

ARBITRATOR

Management did, however, take "full responsibility" for the way the team played, whatever that meant.

And so it went. There was talk of retractions, clarifications, draft statements, emails and website postings. An independent arbitrator was even mentioned.

O'Riordan was ill-advised to use such strong language when briefing the county board of the meeting with team management. For a start, perspective was required when assessing Limerick's league campaign.

They started as second favourites behind Cork to win promotion from 1B, which is exactly where they finished. Granted, a win, rather than a draw, against Offaly would have sealed promotion but it should be noted that Limerick were lucky enough to beat Wexford by three points on a day when Liam Dunne's men shot 10 wides in the first half alone.

Also, Wexford had to travel to the Gaelic Grounds for a second successive year, handing Limerick a crucial advantage. So perhaps Limerick have an inflated view of their current standing if they believe that they are so superior to Offaly, Wexford and Laois, whom they beat by four points in the final round.

The Limerick County Board officers obviously decided that their report to club delegates of the meeting with the management should convey in no uncertain terms how they felt about the league campaign. The trouble is that what goes down well with one constituency doesn't always please another.

Language can be interpreted differently by the speaker and the listener. In Limerick's case, what came across to club delegates as strong, authoritative leadership from O'Riordan and county chairman Oliver Mann sounded like a reprimand to the team management. Frankly, it was difficult to blame them.

Even then, there should have been a way out. Surely, it was possible to find enough common ground to fix the problem immediately and move on. The spat would have been quickly forgotten, O'Grady would still be on board, leaving Limerick's championship preparations firmly on track.

Instead, the controversy has dragged on, which can only be bad for Limerick. Just how bad remains to be seen. Suffice to say, you won't find very many – inside or outside the county – who give them any chance of beating Tipperary on June 1.

Other counties are looking in on Limerick with a combination of incredulity and sympathy. The balance of the mixture depends on whether you believe Limerick made a total mess of the situation or were victims of a relatively trivial incident that spun out of control.

Either way, it's a warning to all that a very close look-out should always be kept for molehills aspiring to become mountains. A glance at the list of managerial controversies which has troubled so many counties over the years provides consistent evidence of how prevalent the risks are.

Limerick, of all counties, should have known that, yet they got sucked back down Trouble Row. It could become their cul-de-sac for 2014.

Irish Independent

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