Hurling counties opt for stability but an old face can lift the Rebels

Donal O'Grady returns to help Cork after stepping down in 2004
Hurling counties opt for stability but an old face can lift the Rebels

Kilkenny coach Brian Cody and Cork's Donal O'Grady on the sideline at Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. They could meet again in 2021. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

GIVEN the short turnaround from the end of the championship in mid-December to the commencement of the NHL at the latter end of February, it was no great surprise that the managerial merry go round wasn’t in full swing this time.

In fact, the only change of note that took place in the past few weeks was the decision of Eddie Brennan to step away from the Laois job to be replaced by 'Cheddar' Plunkett.

Plunkett is, of course, no stranger to the job in the O’Moore County, doing a fine stint there in his previous occupancy of the post.

There were some rumblings in Kilkenny about Brian Cody with a few former players, Richie Power, in particular, making their feelings known.

Power called for a change at the top while Aidan Fogarty penned some words too regarding the great man continuing in the position that he has filled with so much distinction since the late 1990s.

Cody’s record is second to none, his achievements will never be equalled, but there is an old adage that nothing lasts forever.

But the Cody show continues for another season on Noreside and at the end of the day, there will not be that many dissenting voices.

The status quo prevails in the rest of the other leading counties, Liam Sheedy in Tipperary, John Kiely in Limerick, Davy Fitz in Wexford, Kieran Kingston in Cork, Liam Cahill in Waterford, Brian Lohan in Clare, Shane O’Neill in Galway, and so on.

However, there was a very significant development on Leeside last week with the announcement that former All-Ireland winning-manager, Donal O’Grady was returning to the fold in Cork in a coaching-analysis role.

Donal O'Grady is a shrewd tactican. Picture: Larry Cummins
Donal O'Grady is a shrewd tactican. Picture: Larry Cummins

What that means, of course, is that the two men who faced each other on the sideline in the 2003 All-Ireland final, Cody and the Barrs man, might be on the same sideline again 18 years on. O’Grady has been involved since with Limerick and it was interesting to read last week the comments of two players who worked under him in both counties, Alan Browne in Cork, and Gavin O’Mahony in Limerick.

Both could not speak highly enough of their former manager and why wouldn’t they.

O’Grady’s credentials are off the top shelf, a coach of great renown at all levels of the game, both at club level and county level.

He is an astute student of the game of hurling and the vast experience he will bring to the table alongside team boss Kieran Kingston, Ger Cunningham, and Diarmuid O’Sullivan has to enhance Cork’s prospects for the coming season even if the star has dipped in recent times.

Alan Browne, who captained Cork in the 2003 All-Ireland final, made some very interesting observations when he spoke of the Barrs man.

“It wasn’t necessarily the Newtownshandrum short game that he advocated, but he went back to basics, work-rate, hooks, blocks, and taking the better option when you had the ball.

“With him it was not about taking the easy option but the right option. If you did not do that you were giving the advantage to your man.

“If you had to go back, you did that but you kept possession. It wasn’t a total possession game for him as Newtown played but he improved how we played the game," he said.

Donal O'Grady gives instructions during a Cork training session in 2003. Picture: Gavin Browne
Donal O'Grady gives instructions during a Cork training session in 2003. Picture: Gavin Browne

Anybody who follows O’Grady’s analysis of games in the Irish Examiner and on TV will be aware that he studies the game religiously.

He is very big on getting the match-ups right on the day and that is sure to be a large part of the input that he will have Cork have a hugely experienced sideline team now, three men who have all managed at inter-county level plus the drive and determination of Diarmuid O’Sullivan.

O’Grady puts huge emphasis on attention to detail and with a very young Cork panel now in place, they are sure to benefit from whatever work he will have with them.

Former Limerick star, O’Mahony summed up very well how this might work to Cork’s advantage.

“It’s a role handmade for him because he’ll float in the background for a time observing and then come in to get his points across.

“He has the experience and the aura to do that."

Limerick joint managers in 2014 Donal O'Grady and TJ Ryan. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Limerick joint managers in 2014 Donal O'Grady and TJ Ryan. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Of course, at the end of any day, everything rests with the players. A management team, a coach can only do so much; when you cross that white line you are on your own.

However, if the Cork players can bring with them the bits and pieces that they will take from O’Grady’s input, Cork’s challenge for honours will grow accordingly.

It may not be an overnight job — nothing ever is — but the former star defender’s return to the set-up has to be seen as a step in the right direction.

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