So says Déise ace John Mullane, who witnessed first-hand O’Grady’s revival of Cork’s fortunes during a two-year reign that culminated in All-Ireland success in 2004.
Limerick’s County Board chose O’Grady as the man to restore the senior hurlers to the top tier and he has already fulfilled the main part of his brief by securing promotion to Division One of the Allianz Hurling League.
In many pundits’ eyes, he is now in bonus territory after the controversies which ruined their 2010 campaigns. However Mullane is convinced O’Grady and this group of players will want to drive on from their league success.
“It will be a difficult game,” the De La Salle marksman warns. “Any Limerick team we’ve played in the past fancied themselves to beat Waterford. Two years ago they should have beaten us the first day and they beat us in 2007 up in Croke Park in the All-Ireland semi-final. Both teams will see it as a great chance to get to a Munster final and any team that has Donal O’Grady involved has to be respected.
“Just playing against him when he was with Cork; you get an insight as to what Donal O’Grady is all about. He’ll play it down but they’ll know in themselves that they are well capable of beating us. He’ll have them well drilled and tactically they’ll be very astute. In that way you know it’s a game we have to be very careful with.
“We’re in a no-win situation; if we lose we’re in the back door. For them, anything from here on in is a bonus. They’re after getting Division One status... that was probably their main aim at the start of the year but at the same time they would have had one eye on us and getting to a Munster final and that would have been seen as a very successful year for Limerick, considering what happened in the last year.”
Limerick have been in competitive action more recently than Waterford, with the thrilling Division Two decider against Clare, but Davy Fitzgerald’s side have been on the challenge match circuit and according to Mullane, training has been going well. There are some injury doubts and with Dan Shanahan and Ken McGrath retired, the spotlight has shone on some of the younger panellists. Mullane is wary of placing too much of a weight on their shoulders just yet.
“We can’t be putting too much pressure on them. We have to take our time with them too and (not be) putting all the expectation on them. There are good young lads but replacing Dan Shanahan and Ken McGrath isn’t easy. They have been two iconic figures for the last 10 or 15 years. We have good young lads but we have to nurture them. You try and put the arm around them and give them a bit of advice and encouragement.”
A positive aspect of the league campaign was that the burden of scoring on Mullane has been eased. Opposing defences had just one task in 2010: stop Mullane and you stopped Waterford. It says a lot about the man that no-one managed it until the All-Ireland semi-final, when the lack of support finally told. Now though, Shane Walsh, Richie Foley, Maurice Shanahan and Eoin Kelly look to be threats. So that takes some pressure off Mullane but not a lot.
“Any day you go out, you feel pressure regardless. There’s always that expectation. I always put that on myself. You have to go out and deliver so it’s not much different. You do (want the ball). If you are starved of the ball you can get worked up but you have to be patient and you get that with age. You have to learn that you mightn’t see a ball for five or 10 minutes and if you do get your spell, it’s what you can do in those few minutes.”