It’s the feeling among Limerick’s long-suffering supporters, especially, and nowhere was this more evident yesterday than at Kilmallock Mart where thousands joined the farming regulars for the special Bank Holiday market.
“The county board strikes again!” said one green-clad supporter, a sentiment echoed by many, a reference to claims made by O’Grady in his statement in yesterday’s Irish Examiner questioning statements made by board officers at a recent regular county board meeting.
It has led to this latest in a long line of incidents between the Limerick board and its senior hurling managers, two of whom yesterday expressed their own frustration with events.
Richie Bennis was a member of the now almost mythical 1973 team that won Limerick’s last All-Ireland title, managed the team to an All-Ireland final in 2007 where they lost to Kilkenny by seven points.
“It’s crazy and it is the county board, all the way along the line. That’s the kernel of all our problems over the years. Whatever was said at that meeting should have been kept to themselves, that wasn’t for yere [media] Biros. A Munster championship semi-final against Tipperary on June 1, this is the last thing we need.
“We’re a laughing-stock around the GAA. I feel embarrassed being a Limerick supporter this morning, to see all these things still happening when they can be so easily avoided.”
He continued: “It’s happening over and over again and it must end. A man I feel most sorry for in all this is JP McManus, a man who has given so much to Limerick hurling, to Limerick in general. I’m sure that’s not how he’d operate — you’d wonder when his patience will run out.”
Eamonn Cregan was another member of that ’73 side. Having managed Offaly to an All-Ireland title in 1994 (painfully for Eamonn himself, beating Limerick in a heartbreak final), he had his own problems with the board when he returned for his second stint in charge of his home county in 1997.
Now a selector with the minors, Eamonn too was saddened by events, though not overly surprised.
“Sure we’ve been doing that for the last 40 years, why would we change now?” he asked.
“Honestly, I just can’t figure out people. This time last year we were also preparing for Tipperary in the Munster championship but the difference is chalk and cheese.
“Whoever is responsible, let them sort this out and sort it quickly, get ready for June 1. I feel sorry for the players — I’d hate to be a player and have this thing hanging over my head. It’s unprofessional. Somebody would want to get their act together, and soon, because time is not on our side now.
“The Curse of St Munchin’s has struck again. It’s all one big pain in the butt at this stage and we’re all saying the same thing — ‘not again’. Someone has to step forward and take responsibility.”
That someone, says yet another former hero, Ned Rea, has got to be the players themselves.
“I can’t comment on who’s right or wrong here, I’m up in Dublin, don’t know what’s been happening behind the scenes. I do know though that the team has not been playing well. The games I saw this year, against Offaly in Tullamore then against Galway in Limerick, I thought they were very poor in both games, I felt we had gone backwards from last year rather than forwards, back to the short-passing game and it doesn’t suit the Limerick style of hurling.
“We had some great wins last year, against Tipperary then Cork in the Munster final, a great occasion. Free-taking left us down in the All-Ireland semi-final against Clare and maybe the goal could have been prevented but we were close to reaching an All-Ireland final. It’s a shame we are where we are now, less than six weeks to go to the Munster semi-final in Thurles.
“We can all blame management and boards but players must now take responsibility. They still have a manager, and TJ Ryan has two selectors with him. There’s pride in these players, pride in the jersey they wear, as they showed in the Munster final last year.
“They have Tipperary now again and after yesterday they know what they’re facing. They know from watching Kilkenny, Tipperary and now Clare what it takes to win, the kind of preparation and intensity. If you don’t match those requirements you haven’t got a hope in hell.
“They’re smart guys, they know what they have to do, they have six weeks to get it done. If they have to do it themselves, so be it, for the pride and glory of the Limerick jersey if for no other reason.”
The only county board official who would go on the record was vice-chairman Pat Heffernan, who had his own problems earlier this year on the appointment of Tom Ryan as intermediate manager.
“I can’t comment on what has gone on except to say that the people I really feel sorry for here are the players, who don’t deserve to be caught up in this.”