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'I’d hate to play in a game in the melting pot and have to come off based on being 35'

Former Limerick skipper Donal O’Grady on the highs and lows of his hurling career, and his decision to call it a day.

O'Grady, front left, was Limerick captain during their successful 2014 campaign.
O'Grady, front left, was Limerick captain during their successful 2014 campaign.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

RETIRED FORMER LIMERICK hurling captain Donal O’Grady has warned against pitching too many members of the county’s 2015 All-Ireland U21 winning squad into the senior camp too soon.

O’Grady, 35, confirmed that he’s pulled the curtain down on a career pockmarked by many highs and lows, the most notable highlight occurring in 2013 when he captained the Shannonsiders to Munster SHC glory.

The Granagh-Ballingarry clubman met with manager TJ Ryan recently and while O’Grady was promised a role in the Limerick set-up this year, he accepts that he can no longer be considered an automatic choice in the starting team.

O’Grady said: “TJ was very good in fairness, I’d have great time for him.

“He’s a very good manager and we had a good chat.

“He did say there was a role for me but it’s very hard to be on the team for the last 10 years and not be an automatic starter.

Based on my age, I mightn’t be able to see out the 70 minutes and I’d hate to play in a game in the melting pot and having to come off based on being 35 years of age.

“We had a good chat, we shook hands and we’re good friends. In fairness, he said we’ll keep in touch and he might ring me to chat about a match or how this or that fella might be going.”

O’Grady, who made his senior debut in 2004, admits that he first harboured thoughts about retirement following last year’s All-Ireland qualifier defeat against Dublin in Thurles.

He said: “I was thinking about it, coming off the field against Dublin, looking around and wondering was that my last time?

“That came into my head and never did before up to that day. When I was making my decision, I was basing it on why did I think that? My gut feeling is that it’s the right time to do it.”

Conor Fogarty and Donal OÕGrady O'Grady and Limerick fell short against Kilkenny in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

O’Grady has also been hampered by injuries in recent years and an ankle problem set him back considerably in 2015.

He explained: “I picked up a bad ankle injury against Dublin in the League at Croke Park.

“It took me a long time to get over that, my form wasn’t great and it’s a hard thing to do, as captain, when things are not going right, to not play a part and be injured.

After the disappointment of Tipp in the Gaelic Grounds (Munster semi-final), it just wasn’t happening.

“I didn’t base my retirement on me personally having a bad year. My wife and family at home would still want me to play and I don’t see the shop as a barrier in that but I have to be selfish and think of myself.

“And it’s the best thing for me to call it a day.”

O’Grady pinpoints a devastating All-Ireland semi-final defeat against Tipp in 2009, when the Treaty men lost by 2-7 to 6-19 against the Premier County at Croke Park, as the low point of his career.

He said: “For under performance, Tipp in ’09 would have been a real bad one, and not being available for selection in 2010 was very disappointing as well.

“Those two, and if I was to say three, I’d have to include Clare in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final. We had won Munster and were looking for that extra kick to get to an All-Ireland final.

“The highs, then, would have been winning the Munster final in 2013.

I was captain and winning it in Limerick was an extra touch, a situation I didn’t think I’d ever see myself involved in.

“Going back to 2007, there were the famous matches against Tipp and to be involved in those games was freaky, just mad, the way the matches flowed and the run we got, beating Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final and then the final in ’07 against Kilkenny.

“I don’t have too many regrets but I wish I could change that day against Tipp in ’09.

“Honest to God, it wasn’t the fact that Tipp beat us but they humiliated us and the worst feeling I’ve ever felt was leaving Heuston Station in Dublin. We had to walk past a full platform of supporters to get into the carriage and that would have been the lowest of the low.

“When we won the Munster title in 2013, it was thank God we actually did it for the supporters. It was the least they deserved after a topsy turvy few years. To see the joy on their faces pleased me more than the Munster medal in my back pocket.”

Donal O'Grady O'Grady: hampered by injuries in recent years. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Grady believes that Limerick’s long wait for a first All-Ireland senior title since 1973 will eventually end, but he’s preaching caution about the use of the county’s up and coming stars.

He insisted: “It will happen if we keep on doing the right things.

“We were playing catch up as far as standards and the levels you needed to be at to be a top intercounty team but we’ve got to the stage where we’re on a level playing field as far as preparation and understanding what’s involved and what it takes to win. We’re in the right place and there’s a nice squad there at the minute.

If you could pull in, in the next couple of years, some players from the U21s, but I wouldn’t be rushing them in. It’s a big step up, some fellas take to it like ducks to water but other fellas will find themselves feeling the pressure.

“It doesn’t matter what county you play for, the level of expectation involved with the flagship team in the county carries its own weight of expectation on and off the field.”

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