New captain Donal O’Grady will lead the Limerick senior hurlers for the first time this Saturday evening in a challenge game against Cork.
The inter-county challenge game takes place in the Togher GAA grounds of St Finbarr’s in Cork at 6.00.
One week previous, Donal O’Grady’s enjoyment of last Saturday’s Six Nations clash between Ireland and Wales was interrupted by a phonecall.
Ireland were in the midst of their scoring spell towards the end of the opening half when the Granagh-Ballingarry man saw the name of John Allen on his mobile phone.
O’Grady was only settled back in home after an early morning training session but it was to be a welcome phonecall.
“The vote to change the captaincy was on the Tuesday night and the following day fellas were coming into the shop and saying it could be me but it wasn’t something that I had thought about,” explained Donal O’Grady to LeaderSport.
All changed when John Allen informed O’Grady that management had selected him to captain Limerick for 2013.
“Of course I was delighted. I’m not sure if it’s a reward or what for my years but it’s a great honour. From a personal point of view there will be certain pressure but I think I have pretty much seen it all,” outlined O’Grady.
Now the elder statesmen of the panel, O’Grady is a veteran of 36 championship appearances since making his debut in 2004 under the Padjoe Whelehan reign.
He doesn’t need reminding of his status within the panel.
“Don’t talk to me,” he laughs.
“The young fellas stroll into training with not a worry in the world after two or three hours in college and they are full of energy. Then the following day they can find time to watch Home and Away,” he jokes.
Until the recent nuptials of Seamus Hickey, O’Grady was the only married member of the 2013 panel.
“I have my wife Kathryn and two small kids at home and in fairness they understand the commitment.”
“I’ve learned down the years that you can’t afford to go through the motions. It does take over your life and it has to be 100% commitment or else nothing,” outlines the new captain.
It’s this commitment that signalled out O’Grady as the obvious choice for the captaincy when management were given the task after the vote to deprive the respective county champions of the honour.
Previously a Sales Rep with Coca Cola, O’Grady took over the family business last September - Ballingarry’s Spar Store.
“The driving was definitely harder on the body but even working at home I know that the commitment to training is 100%. There is no point in me ringing John Allen and saying that I am stuck in the shop and not able to make training - you just have to commit 100%.”
It’s a philosophy that has stood O’Grady well.
“This week alone, we trained Monday, Tuesday and we have Thursday and then a match in Cork on Saturday night and on Sunday the inter-provincial selectors want some of us to meet up.”
It’s a long way from the early days of O’Grady’s inter-county career.
In 2001, he won an All-Ireland U-21 medal.
“I played in the first game that year against Cork. I played about a half hour and then was taken off and couldn’t get back into the team,” he recalled.
Many of the team were catapulted directly into the Limerick senior panel.
As he had done for the previous two years, O’Grady continued to hurl with the Limerick intermediate side.
“I hurled intermediate for four years altogether,” he recalled.
In 2004 the break through to the senior ranks arrived.
“I actually didn’t hurl a minute of that league and then in the championship against Cork I was used as a blood sub and the next say against Tipp I came on as a sub,” he explained.
The management bib may have passed Padjoe Whelehan, Joe McKenna, Richie Bennis, Justin McCarthy, Donal O’Grady and now John Allen, but the Granagh-Ballingarry man has remained one of the few constants since his debut in 2004. Indeed O’Grady and Moran are now the only two members of the Limerick senior panel with All-Ireland U-21 medals.
“I have no problem saying that there were at least 20 fellas on those U-21 teams with more natural ability than me - they are all only around 30-33 years old now but gone. If you look at Kilkenny they have about six or seven fellas that age”
He added: “When you look back at those Limerick U-21 teams there was some fierce talent in those squads.”
Facing into his 10th full season on the inter-county senior panel, O’Grady is appreciative of his chance to play at this level.
“You would definitely appreciate it a lot more as the years go by. It can be a reality check when you come in first but I think I have seen it all now - the good and the bad.”
He continued: “I’ve learned my share and hopefully I can pass that onto lads now. But there is great leadership in this panel. It isn’t a quiet dressing room - the young lads that have come in have expectations and confidence and that will make my job a lot easier.”