Wednesday 24 January 2018

Right man, Right place, Right time

Ultra-organised O'Grady ideal Mr Fix-It to sort out Treaty hurling mess, writes Colm Keys

If sport really mirrored life then Donal O'Grady wouldn't be a school headmaster, he'd be a receiver taking over companies in turmoil and seeking to make them profitable again.

For the second time, O'Grady will walk into a hurling mess, sift through the debris caused by severe turbulence and attempt to have it back in full health as quickly as possible.

As long as the Limerick players are prepared to be obedient students to the strict discipline of the 'muinteoir' then they should all get along fine.

O'Grady's success with Cork after the initial strike in 2002 was such that the trio tasked with finding a successor to Justin McCarthy apparently weren't going to take no for an answer.

Even as O'Grady was distancing himself from the job two weeks ago, they never lost sight of their desire to unleash him on Limerick's current mess.

The appointment will be widely welcomed. He's another Cork All-Ireland medal winner, who favours a dictatorial approach and leans heavily on the technical side. The difference is in the detail, though: O'Grady's capacity to be man-manager, planner and coach.

After months of divisiveness over McCarthy, after years of poor management selection, Limerick may actually have got the right man in the right place at the right time. Even if they lost a year going about it.

The parallels between Cork in late 2002 and Limerick almost eight years on are not exact. For a start, O'Grady must unite those players who stood down in protest at the removal of so many of their colleagues from the squad after the 2009 All-Ireland defeat to Tipperary with those who chose to wear the county jersey in their place. However, if there was deep resentment to the 2010 squad it never manifested in public.


The feeling is that they'll all be happy to forgive, forget and get on with it. But some of them will clearly have to change their ways or risk being isolated. It doesn't guarantee gold and O'Grady is unlikely to stay longer than the one year he has committed for. That's his form. He will show them a different way, however.

In Cork he revolutionised the way they prepared. He was a stickler for time. If a session was starting at 7.0 he'd make it his business to be on the field an hour beforehand. Every minute detail was catered for. Nothing was deemed unimportant.

From video analysis to the laundry of training gear, Cork adopted the highest standards. O'Grady wanted elite athletes preparing in an elite manner, and for that he expected elite behaviour. The Cork players were happy to oblige.

Can he extract the same response from Limerick?

"He brought us to a different level," wrote Donal Og Cusack in 'Come What May'. "He was a manager who considered everything and tended to have everything written down on the back of a cornflakes pack when he arrived at training. We feared him and we respected him."

He wasn't all authority, however. Cusack recalls being approached by O'Grady some months after the 2003 All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny. O'Grady had watched the replay of Martin Comerford's goal over and over and considered that Cusack had not been at fault.

"He released me in the space of a few seconds with those words. He gave me my own confidence back. I'll never forget him for that. He switched the light back on in my head."

Brian Corcoran, Cork's iconic centre- back who came out of retirement at O'Grady's prompt in 2004 to win two more All-Ireland medals remembers his "natural authority and presence".

For Corcoran there was a parallel in style between O'Grady and Brian Clough, the infamous Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Derby County manager.

"Although players were encouraged to have their say, he (O'Grady) could be dictatorial at times," recalled Corcoran in his autobiography 'Every Single Ball'.

The teacher in him regularly came across during his time in Cork. Once, during the 2004 championship, he approached two Irish Sports Council officials who had taken Cusack and Sean Og O hAilpin away for random drugs tests and demanded to see paperwork, which he got.

He queried the relevance of initials in small print on the forms produced, for which one official had no explanation. It was the official's first day and as Corcoran recalled it he was "like a school kid back in O'Grady's principal's office". "What," came the reply, "you're in here, drug-testing my players and you can't tell me what this means?"

With O'Grady it was all "mind games", according to Corcoran. The Cork players, almost to a man, loved him for it. One, who fell foul of him, was addressed, 'as gaeilge', for a long time by the number on his shirt. "Uimhir a ... " Everyone got the message.

The mind games could extend to referees too and prior to the 2004 All-Ireland final he made an approach to the match referee Aodhan MacSuibhne to query the validity of a puck-out strategy Cork had devised, whereby Diarmuid O'Sullivan would move in and take a quick puck out to Cusack.

Once he had cleared it with the official, he reminded him about what he felt was a Kilkenny propensity to tackle high with the hurley around the neck, perhaps the main reason for the mission.

Most of all, though, Corcoran recalled a brilliant coach who worked with the backs in 1999 at Jimmy Barry-Murphy's invitation: "He was excellent. As a man I liked what I knew of him too. You could tell (in 1999) that his technical knowledge of the sport was unsurpassed.

"He showed us ways of hooking and blocking that nobody had shown us before and yet it was so simple."

O'Grady has been known to regularly quote the rebel Terence MacSwiney's stirring dictum that 'victory will go to not those who have inflicted the most, but to those who have endured the most.'

Never could it be more appropriate than for the hard-pressed Limerick fans.

Irish Independent

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