Sporting Limerick has every reason to be proud this weekend. On Saturday in Cardiff, the rugby player many would say is up there with the great Mick Mackey when it comes to identifying Limerick’s all-time greatest sportsman, wins his 100th Ireland cap. It will be a special day for Paul O’Connell’s family, even if the man himself typically plays down the significance of his accomplishment. The following day, down the road in Swansea, another mighty Limerick forward, Gillian Bourke, will make her 50th appearance for the Ireland women’s team, another wonderful achievement. And on St Patrick’s Day, the Kilmallock hurlers will run onto hallowed ground at Croke Park, with huge support from their local community, all willing them to defeat favourites Ballyhale Shamrocks in the All-Ireland club final.
Once again, the unique ability of sport to enthral us and instil pride in local communities is compellingly clear. For weeks there has been talk of little else but Croke Park out Kilmallock way and the Limerick Leader photographer reports that excitement at the local national school was at fever pitch.Could there be better examples to these youngsters than the ferociously dedicated squad who will bid to get the better of the famed Kilkenny club on Tuesday? Win or lose, they have had a journey to remember. In 20, 30, 40 years and more, they’ll still be talking about the big day in Dublin – all the more so, of course, if the trophy was to accompany them back down the M7. The reason they are there is partly sheer talent – but pure hard work has been just as influential.
Speaking of hard graft, surely no rugby player playing professionally today has put in more hours of dedication than the mighty O’Connell. In our sport section this week, some of the local coaches who helped him on his way during his younger days are unanimous in highlighting his appetite for work and determination to improve. They, like his family, will feel proud when he leads the Ireland team out. Always a champion of the Limerick cause, he has made many friends in the city and county because of his willingness to find time for everyone.
He has been a role model for the youngsters of Ireland. He’s Limerick through and through. Let us hope he and his fellow forward Gillian Bourke – and the proud men of Kilmallock – get the right result in their respective challenges over the coming days. But they are all winners regardless.