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'I’m not a guy for looking back or having regrets, I had a great run at it' - life after Limerick hurling

Gavin O’Mahony brought his Limerick playing career to a close this week

Gavin O'Mahony is carried from the field by fans Gavin O'Mahony celebrating the 2013 Munster final win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

HE HAD BEEN mulling it over for a while and then last Tuesday evening, Gavin O’Mahony’s decision was made.

The tweet was sent and with that he had pulled the plug on his time as a Limerick hurler.

He was first drafted in midway during the summer of 2006, a fresh-faced teenager out of minor ranks, and save for a year spent watching on during the turbulence that engulfed Limerick hurling in 2010, O’Mahony had been a constant presence in the senior squad ever since.

The summer just gone was a difficult one to manage, getting to peak fitness and pushing himself for inclusion on the pitch was becoming harder.

“Going through last year I felt I was getting injured a bit more easily than I ever was. I was conscious not to finish up completely crippled.

“I had it in my head for a while. When things warm up again in the spring, you’ll be thinking you should have gone again but I don’t think there was any easy time to walk away.”

Gavin O’Mahony Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

His Limerick senior days did not yield a trove of trophies but the well wishes and goodwill still rained down on O’Mahony this week and took the Kilmallock man aback.

“I got some lovely messages the last few days. The phone was hopping. Hearing from people I hadn’t met in four or five years, lads from school in Australia and Middle East, you wouldn’t even think they were following GAA any more.

“Even the lads I played with in minor that touched base. When you’re involved, you’re just thinking of training and games, you’re never looking back and reflecting.

“It’s hard to see how people view you or the perception but then they’re sending nice messages like that about games you played down through the years.”

It’s been a way of life for as long as O’Mahony can remember. Stretching back to 2001 when he captained the Limerick U14 side, he’s followed the inter-county path.

2005 saw him put himself in the shop window as part of a minor team that journeyed all the way to September. He had Seamus Hickey, Tom Condon and James Ryan for company on that team – a trio he’d continue to solider alongside over the next decade – but it was Joe Canning, James Skehill and Galway who got their hands on the Irish Press Cup.

Sean Glynn and Gavin O'Mahoney 11/9/2005 Gavin O'Mahony (left) in action in the 2005 All-Ireland minor final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Two years later he was back in an All-Ireland final, this time the marquee stage with the Limerick senior panel.

He thinks back to that whirlwind summer and magical memories come flooding back of the electric three-game saga with Tipperary, the five goals they bagged against Waterford in August and the charismatic conductor orchestrating them in Richie Bennis.

“People talk about the journey and I remember going training at the time – my first real year on the panel – with lads I’d watched for the previous ten years. The innocence and the rawness of it all, I was just tearing into everything.

“There was no obstacles and there was a great freedom to it. I just remember it being so enjoyable. Richie Bennis was a big part of that, how he managed to get the best out of every player on the panel.

Richie Bennis celebrates Limerick hurling manager Richie Bennis in 2007 Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“It was just so enjoyable and competitive, there was a good bond there. I’ll never forget the All-Ireland final and the reaction when we went out on the field. It was crazy and I don’t think it settled down until Kilkenny got the goal.”

That was his first eye-witness account of Kilkenny’s greatness and if the season had been a ride at dizzying heights, the shattering lows of elite hurling were soon to arrive.

In 2008 Limerick didn’t win a championship match and in 2009 after O’Mahony had produced a phenomenal display of marksmanship in a quarter-final success against Dublin, supplying 0-8 from wing-back courtesy of placed balls and sideline cuts, they crashed into a roadblock in the subsequent semi-final.

Tipperary fired six goals as part of a 24-point hammering they administered. That was the end of 2009 and a bitter winter ensued that saw O’Mahony and a bunch of team-mates opt out in 2010 when Justin McCarthy was at the helm.

Gavin O'Mahony A dejected Gavin O'Mahony after the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final loss. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“They were hugely difficult times because we were a relatively young team. The core of that team suffered a desperate defeat to Tipperary.

“Then you’d 2010, locally even the amount of clubs that were split and the abuse that was being bandied around. It was very messy, families even fell out.”

2011 represented a new opportunity with Donal O’Grady in charge. Limerick claimed the Division 2 league title that spring and standing as the victorious captain in the sunshine in Ennis that April evening, O’Mahony felt a glow of satisfaction.

Gavin O'Mahony lifts the trophy Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“It was just a nice achievement to come back and put it right. It built a lot of character. Five or six different lads were throw in to central positions, it was sink or swim.

“We were at the bottom of the ladder and you’re facing into a championship year, thinking if we don’t pull this together that it could be embarrassing again. There was huge satisfaction in the friendships and bond that were built.”

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That was the springboard for his career highlight in a Limerick jersey two seasons later. Their incremental development culminated in 17 years of Munster hurt being washed away in 2013 with victory over Cork.

That image of the pitch invasion in the Gaelic Grounds is burned in his mind.

“The mental barrier we were trying to break down was to go on and win something. The players were definitely training as hard as any other team in the country, it was just a case of trying to get over the line.

“The sense of relief that day in the Gaelic Grounds is something people in Limerick will remember for a long time.”

Gavin O'Mahony celebrates at the final whistle Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

He would never manage to scale the highest hurling mountain but kept trying to reach the peak.

“From the very minute I joined the panel, I’d no other thing in my mind other than to win the All-Ireland.

“When we were at our lowest or when we were going well, it was the same thing, just to go and win it.

“It is frustrating obviously but throughout my career at stages when morale was low or we were struggling after a loss or we were trying to get out of the league, the constant for me in my career and what satisfied me most was giving it a constant 100%, whether it be training or matches.

“I was comfortable in the fact that I gave it 100% and if it was good enough, well and good, and if it was not, then it was not to be.”

The 2013 semi-final against Clare was an afternoon they fell flat as they succumbed to defeat but twelve months later they contributed handsomely to a furious battle in a Croke Park monsoon.

Gavin O'Mahony tries to tackle Padraic Collins and is upended by Colin Ryan Gavin O'Mahony in action against Clare in 2013. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

In his book ‘The Warrior’s Code’, Jackie Tyrrell encapsulated the ferocity of that collision between Kilkenny and Limerick.

“It was primal. Feral. The rain storm was raw and relentless. The floodlights were on but you could hardly see anything at times.

“They were unimaginable conditions for hurling but I loved it. We were hanging on by our fingertips but I never felt as alive in my life. It was all kind of magical. It felt like there was 120,000 at the game.”

O’Mahony sings from the same hymn sheet when recalling the intensity of that day.

“2013 brought huge frustration for us and I think that boiled over in 2014 and I think we really threw the kitchen sink at that team that day.

“It just felt with the preparation coming into it, I thought the group was in a great position. We felt we were hungry for it. That same fear that was there the previous year wasn’t talked about.

“I think that group that day if we were still there, it’d still be point for point between the teams. I enjoyed that battle.

“It was something you always got with Kilkenny, they’d take you on and you were welcome to do the same. That’s what made them such great champions.”

Michael Fennelly and Gavin O'Mahony Gavin O'Mahony in action against Michael Fennelly in 2014. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

O’Mahony looks at opponents with well-stocked trophy cabinets but isn’t mired in disillusionment as a result. Hurling has been good to him, he thinks of other Limerick hurlers that never got a break with injuries and feels blessed to have had so many years pounding the treadmill.

In 2018 he will get back to focusing on club life with Kilmallock as they seek to add to their three county senior triumphs since 2010.

The past few springs have seen him help out with the Mary Immaculate Fitzgibbon Cup team and coaching is something he can see himself pursuing further in the future.

And next year he’ll be adding another voice to the Limerick hurling support.

“Some of my best friends I met were in college and it was all through hurling. I don’t think I’ve too many friends outside of hurling.

“To pass a guy on the street and say you fought and you won and lost together, that’s a great feeling to have.

“I’m looking forward to being around Kilmallock and giving a bit more, my own club team have been so patient with me.

“I’m not a guy for looking back or having regrets, I had a great run at it. I’m happy for the next crowd to come along and have their shot at it and row in behind them.”

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