Limerick's O'Dea striving on...but wouldn't mind having Hegarty beside him

Through down times and on to better days, 'leaving the jersey in better place' has always been the goal 
Limerick's O'Dea striving on...but wouldn't mind having Hegarty beside him

No holding him back: Tipperary's Luke Boland tackles Limerick's Sean O'Dea. Pic: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Sean O’Dea can recall the 2004 Munster football final well. You just have to ask him.

“The drawn game, those two 45s," he says. “It felt like they (Limerick) kind of deserved it but sometimes to get over the line you’ve to almost be so much better than a team like Kerry who are so experienced.

“You look at that 2004 Kerry team, no one came close to beating them apart from Limerick. They seemed to coast to an All-Ireland that year and Limerick pushed them so close. They were agonising times.

“Back then, the football team was almost more exciting to follow than the hurling. There were some down years there for the hurlers.”

The Irish Life actuary from Kilteely-Dromkeen (“We’re only a small club but I’m not the only Limerick representative, Brian O’Grady plays for the hurlers”) can recall down years for the footballers in his own career: “I mean, a low point would be we got hammered by Leitrim in the League in 2018.

“Now Leitrim were steadily improving at the time, I think they went up the following year but it just felt like it wasn’t even close and the scoreline might even have flattered us.

“Coming back from Carrick-on-Shannon, I was going to Dublin at the time so thankfully I wasn’t on that bus journey but I heard it was one of the (quietest buses). Having said that, that was a case of ‘Let’s put this League behind us and let’s have a go come Championship’.

“Sometimes when you’re around 23, you’re too stubborn to think otherwise and you can be . . . I suppose honestly the thought never came into my head about leaving.

“Maybe if I was a bit older it might have, but in my head I still had a lot more of my career to play rather than I was coming to an end, I suppose.” 

Billy Lee’s management has been key to the upturn in Limerick’s fortunes.

“When it comes to Billy, you never feel that he’s got any other motives or intentions other than improving Limerick football,” says O’Dea.

“That’s clear from everything he says but it’s also clear in how he acts. You see it from his messaging to the media as well, he’s very clear on putting Limerick ahead of him and he’s the last person that would take credit for anything.

“Another big part of it is, he’s quite selfless as well. He’s very good at deferring as well and each year we’ve added something to the backroom team that has really just raised the standards of the group, whether it’s bringing in an S&C coach, whether it’s bringing in a dietician or whether it’s bringing in an extra trainer, he’s always looking to improve the professionalism within the group.

“What he requires from everyone, whether you’re a player or whether you’re involved in the management, that it’s about the group, it’s about Limerick football and it’s about leaving the jersey in a better place from when we leave or when someone from management leaves. That’s always the goal.” 

Reaching this weekend’s Munster football final is a fair indication of their progress. They’re not the only Limerick side in a Munster final, of course. Could any of the county hurlers do a job this Saturday against Kerry?

“I would have played (football) with Gearoid Hegarty for two years. He was an unbelievable competitor," reports O'Dea.

“When he came in, in our second year, you could just that it felt like he had grown. I’d say no matter what sport . . . I’m sure Munster rugby could find a position for him.

“I would have played with Will as well, Will O’Donoghue, he was a very good under-21 player as well. I remember when we played Tyrone, Gearoid started full-forward and came out midfield and he was a real problem, like.

“I was marking Sean Cavanagh and I remember he said to me, ‘Who is this lad? Who is this big tall 6’5” guy that’s winning kickouts and just running down the field?’ Certainly he’d get on any team in the country.”

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