Twelve dramatic episodes from the Limerick GAA year

Limerick joint managers Donal O'Grady, left, and TJ Ryan in conversation after defeat to Galway in the NHL quarter final
It was another year of high drama on the Limerick GAA scene with no end of rows, resignations and removals, writes Jerome O’Connell

It was another year of high drama on the Limerick GAA scene with no end of rows, resignations and removals, writes Jerome O’Connell

TOO YOUNG TO PLAY

On January 11 last St Marys Sean Finns (with some Cappagh-Kilcornan players) were crowned 2013 Limerick Premier U-21 football champions with a replay final victory.

Just days after they were thrown out of the championship, the Rathkeale club ended a dramatic week by beating Dromcollogher-Broadford 1-12 to 0-10. The previous Tuesday night, the club received notification that they were out of the championship after Limerick GAA’s CCCC ruled that they fielded an illegal player - a player who was too young to actually play U-21.

The club appealed the decision and late on Friday night, the Hearings Committee overturned the decision on a technicality. Just over 15 hours later in Mick Neville Park, St Mary’s Sean Finns were crowned winners, albeit without the player in question. It brought an end to a hugely dramatic championship, that had seen the semi-finals played on St Stephen’s Day and then the initial final played on New Year’s Eve.

The Rathkeale club let a six-point lead slip in the drawn final but this time round they finished strongly to win a first ever title at this grade. In the process they went one step further than the previous year when they lost the final to Newcastle West.

MEDAL WAIT COMES TO AN END

Almost seven months after the inter-county championships ended, the three victorious Limerick GAA teams of 2013 finally received their medals on March 9, 2014.

Last January it was announced that a gala function for over 550 guests was to take place in the Racecourse in Patrickswell on February 9. But that event was cancelled at very short notice.

The 40th anniversary of the 1973 All Ireland SHC and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Munster MHC winning sides were also to be honoured. However, these plans weren’t included in the ‘low key’ March 9 event in the Greenhills Hotel.

GAA President Liam O’Neill and Munster Council chairman Robert Frost were in attendance to present the medals to the provincial championship winning senior and minor hurlers and the senior footballers, who won Division 4 of the NFL.

The one noteworthy aspect of the evening was O’Neill’s apology to Limerick over the Hawk-Eye error that marred the 2013 All Ireland minor semi-final.

WHOSE TOWN IS THIS ANYWAY?

In late March Limerick GAA were forced to ask for a change to be made to an advertising hoarding in the Gaelic Grounds after a giant billboard appeared featuring a Munster rugby player and the slogan ‘This is our Town’.

It was the wording ‘This is our Town’ that caused unrest within Limerick GAA circles and within 48 hours the advertising hoarding had been altered to read ‘Come on Munster’.

While the advertising hoarding raised eyebrows among the general public, there were no complaints to the Gaelic Grounds office and the decision to seek changes came from within officialdom.

At the following County Board meeting there were calls to totally remove the advertising billboards, but they were dismissed.

DONAL O’GRADY UPS AND LEAVES

Late on Sunday night April 20, Donal O’Grady shocked all in Limerick GAA circles when stepping down as joint-Limerick hurling manager.

Just seven weeks before Limerick were due to meet Tipperary in the Munster championship, O’Grady left stating he and TJ Ryan had “sought an immediate meeting with county board officers when certain statements at a recent board meeting appeared in the press”.

“One such statement informed the meeting that the co-managers ‘apologised for the abysmal’ displays during the league at a previous league review meeting. This statement was simply untrue,”outlined O’Grady in his statement.

He continued to state that a clarification was to be issued but that “as no official retraction or clarification was published, national press coverage has continued to report the untrue statement, which has further undermined the management and playing panel. Donal O’Grady wishes to state that regretfully at this point in time he has no other option but to step down forthwith from his position of coach and co-manager.”

TJ Ryan spoke out in support of O’Grady but remained in situ to guide Limerick into the championship, where they lost the Munster final to Cork and narrowly fell short of defeating Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. Just days after the loss to Kilkenny, Ryan was rewarded with a new three year term as manager.

GARDAI AND A SIT-DOWN PROTEST

In the first week of June, Gardai had to intervene to allow the Limerick City Junior A Hurling League Final go-ahead because of a sit-down protest staged by St Patrick’s clubman Hammy Dawson.

Dawson protested for almost two hours on the GAA field in Clarina before the scheduled final between Na Piarsaigh and Crecora started. The arrival of four uniformed gardai just before the start helped to bring an end to the protest, which Dawson undertook to highlight the plight of his club - they were forced to give a semi final walkover the weekend previous when St Patricks were fixed to play Crecora in direct opposition the Munster football championship action in the Gaelic Grounds, where eight St Patricks men were involved as players with varying Limerick teams.

He had told media that he was prepared to “lie down in the middle of the pitch” to stop the final going ahead.

TICKET SCRAMBLE FOR THE PAIRC

Much of the two week build-up to the July 13 Munster SHC final was dominated by a ticket scramble.

After much speculation on June 24 it was confirmed by the Munster Council that Pairc Ui Chaoimh was to hold the final leaving up to 10,000 Limerick supporters without a ticket for the game.

“In reality, less people from Limerick will be able to attend the Munster final than attended the Munster semi-final,” said Oliver Mann, chairman of Limerick County Board.

“I have had a couple of calls from people expressing their disappointment. The people aren’t giving out about the fact that it is on in Cork - they are giving out about the fact that there won’t be tickets. The capacity is the issue.”

Capacity was initially 32,168, almost 10,000 down on the 2013 final between Limerick and Cork in the Gaelic Grounds but further tickets were added and eventually the attendance proved to be 36,075.

NO ROLE FOR BRIAN RYAN

Just over a week after guiding Limerick to a rare All-Ireland hurling final appearance, Brian Ryan was denied his wish to continue in the role of county minor hurling manager. And, the South Liberties man was also overlooked for the role of Limerick U-21 hurling manager to continue develop the players who won back-to-back Munster minor titles under his guidance. Ryan’s two-year term as Limerick minor hurling manager ended with defeat in Croke Park but he had said he was interested in continuing in the role or indeed was open to moving up to the U-21 grade.

But an officer meeting of Limerick GAA agreed to propose a new minor hurling manager and a new U-21 hurling manager.

Former Munster U-21 championship winning manager Leo O’Connor took over from Brian Ryan as Limerick minor manager while former senior, intermediate and U-21 selector John Kiely got the U-21 manager’s job - replacing Ciaran Carey, who was only given a one-year term this time last year and wasn’t handed an extension.

WHAT’S THE SCORE, REF?

The October 25 Limerick JHC ‘A’ final ended in dramatic circumstances in the Gaelic Grounds.

At the final whistle Na Piarsaigh appeared to be champions on a 0-16 to 2-9 scoreline. Both the referee and the electronic scoreboard in the grounds indicated the victory.

However, as the city club celebrated their success over west Limerick’s Feohanagh, Limerick GAA chairman Oliver Mann addressed the crowd to confirm that the game had actually finished level and a replay would be played.

Midway through the second half Na Piarsaigh were mistakenly awarded a point on the scoreboard and this led to confusion on the behalf of the referee and others in the ground. When the replay took place, Feohanagh won out 0-20 to 0-9.

UNHOLY ROW AT CLUB HURLING GAME

Two Kilteely-Dromkeen players were handed 12 month suspensions after they were sent off in their bad tempered Limerick JHC ‘A’ quarter-final defeat to Feohanagh-Castlemahon.

A third player received a two match ban after he was sent off in the same game where Kilteely-Dromkeen finished with 11 players. The fourth player was sent off for two bookable offences.

A complaint was made to the gardaí after the game as the referee was struck with a hurley. The incident occurred in the first half, after a Kilteely-Dromkeen player was sent off for a dangerous tackle. A row ensued after the incident, which took place at the Staker Wallace GAA grounds in Kilbreedy, and the referee John Paul Kiely was subsequently hit with a hurley by a Kilteely-Dromkeen player. The match was initially suspended for five minutes after the incident before the game resumed. Feohanagh-Castlemahon won the game 2-13 to 0-12.

TOM RYAN WALKS AWAY

In early October, Tom Ryan resigned as Limerick intermediate hurling selector and hit out at a lack of honesty surrounding recent inter-county management appointments.

Fellow selector Tony Roche also departed.

Just weeks previous manager Don Flynn and selectors, Ryan, Roche and Declan O’Grady were rubber-stamped for 2015. Former Limerick senior manager Tom Ryan explained his reasons for quitting surround the removal of 2014 selectors Jimmy Carroll and Pat Howard.

“The only reason we were given for the removal of the two men was that the management team was too big - but then they come along and appoint a new person (O’Grady). I can’t stand by and see the two men (Carroll and Howard) isolated like that,”explained Ryan

“I thought we had all worked very well together this year and we had a review meeting with the County Board officers in the Woodlands Hotel and everything was positive - there was no mention of selectors been dropped. I can’t understand why there was a change needed. It’s important that everybody is honest and if there was something wrong then we should have been told that at the review meeting,” said Ryan.

WALLACE GOES ... DALY ARRIVES

There was much shock on December 11 when it was revealed Jerry Wallace had departed as Head Coach of Limerick’s Underage Hurling Academy and as county minor hurling coach.

It was understood that his departure was due to his new role as Midleton senior hurling manager. The former Cork All-Ireland SHC winning coach then issued a statement saying that he had been removed from the roles.

“I stated unequivocally to the Hurling Committee that I was very keen to continue my role with the Academy. The Committee decided not to agree with this,” said Wallace in a statement. “Midleton GAA Club were, when honouring me with the position of Senior Hurling Manager of my home club, fully aware of my long-standing commitment to Underage Hurling in Limerick. The suggestion therefore that I would ‘walk away’ from the Academy is incorrect.”

However, four days later, there was another shock when Limerick GAA confirmed that former Clare and Dublin senior hurling manager Anthony Daly was to replace Wallace in both roles.

FIGHTING TALK AT ANNUAL CONVENTION

Last month’s Limerick GAA Annual Convention had passed without any fuss. The main event was always going to be the election of the County Board chairman with a challenge to a sitting chairman for the first time since December 1996.

But that election campaign had also passed without any fuss. Then all changed. It was over two and a half hours into the gathering of over 300 GAA members in Ballylanders when the results of the vote were announced. There was no overthrowing of the chairman. The challenger was first to address the convention and Pat Heffernan certainly let his parting mark with a pre-scripted speech of over four minutes.

“I don’t regret for one minute having put myself forward because I think it is important to put your head about the parapet, especially if you feel things are being done in an clandestine way - I felt the board had become unaccountable, decisions were being made behind the scenes and that’s just not good enough. One of my reasons for putting my hat in the ring is that I wanted the business of the board to be more transparent,” started Heffernan.

Chairman Oliver Mann had earlier spoke for 17 minutes in his annual report but when he took to his feet again he hit back at the departing vice-chairman in no uncertain terms.

“You delegates here have shown that you believe in this board because I think this victory today is not for me personally but the board. I reject the criticism of this board, of this management by a man who was a member of management. Every decision we make was made at management - practically the majority of them were unanimous and every other one of them were by simple majority. That’s the way we run our affairs, that’s democracy and that’s what I stand for,” said Mann.