Former Blues boss Michael O'Grady: 'If Dublin beat Limerick, they could go far'
Thurles winners could go a long way if they hit form says former Dublin boss
EVEN before Dublin had played Laois and their progress to the next qualifier round was assured, Michael O'Grady was asked where his allegiances would lie in the event that they were drawn against Limerick. "It depends who asks the question!" he answered, with a neat sidestep.
Now that it has come to pass, "as the fella says, I'll quote the fifth amendment."
O'Grady, you see, is a 'Shannonside Dub' - a son of Patrickswell who has coached Limerick in the '80s and managed Dublin in the '90s. His name is synonymous with 'The Friends of Dublin Hurling' but in Thurles this Saturday he will be wondering who is friend and who is foe … two of the Limerick squad, brothers Seánie and Thomas O'Brien, are nephews.
No wonder, then, that's he loath to call this potentially season-defining SHC qualifier in Semple Stadium (5.0).
What O'Grady can say is that both protagonists must raise their game significantly if they are to, whatever about reaching a quarter-final, end their respective All-Ireland famines (42 years and counting for Limerick, a scary 77 for the Dubs).
The draw, he surmises, is "great for both teams, let's be honest. Dublin had a comprehensive win in the league match in Croke Park, but on that night Limerick were just terrible.
"But in the meantime Dublin have been terrible in the match against Galway in Tullamore, and Limerick haven't been over-impressive and even struggled against Westmeath (last Sunday).
"And Dublin, actually, I thought made hard work of beating Laois. So both teams will be delighted to get another game, and both would have to lift their game big time. Because the winners will be playing the runners-up in the provincial finals, and both I believe have a long way to go at this stage."
With home advantage no longer a factor at this 'back door' juncture, O'Grady is happy to see both hurling qualifiers (Clare and Cork follow at 7pm) heading for Thurles.
Thus, there is no head-start advantage for either team, although Dublin will be desperate to atone for their last pallid performance in the self-styled 'Home of Hurling' - last year's quarter-final exit to Tipperary.
That brought the curtain down on Anthony Daly's six-year adventure with the Sky Blues. Ger Cunnigham is a different type of man and manager, but the initial optimism fuelled by Dublin's early league sparkle (against Tipp and Kilkenny) has been deflated somewhat by recent displays.
At least Saturday's 4-17 to 0-19 victory in Laois has healed some of the wounds opened by Galway at the start of June, yet O'Grady still had issues with the second half performance.
"Dublin reverted back to short passing last Saturday in the second half with a strong wind behind them, which makes no sense," he maintains.
"They got two goals in the first ten minutes against the wind, two long balls into Mark Schutte who grabbed two balls, rounded his man, back of the net. Next ball came in, got another ball, rounded his man, gave a great pass to (Conal) Keaney who buried the ball in the net.
"In the second half they hardly got a ball between them, and at this stage we were playing with a strong wind.
"I just felt they turned over four or five points against the wind, which was okay. But then they died and started messing with the ball, passing short puckouts, short this, short that, and the boys below starving of possession - especially Keaney and Schutte.
"And Schutte's hot at the moment. Why not give the man more ball? Because he's a nightmare for any corner-back.
"But they let Laois back into the game; Laois came back to five points. Now, Dublin pulled away eventually - but you know, they're not able to put teams away when they should put them away," he continues.
"They couldn't do it with Cork in the league semi-final when they had time to do it, and it's a fault they have. In Croke Park against Galway in the first round, they should have put Galway away and didn't do it.
"And you will not win matches at this stage of the year not playing for 15-20 minutes - you will not win them. You might take a break for five minutes, but if you lay up for 15 or 20 minutes and don't make full use of the ball ... "
Maybe it's an unfair comparison, but O'Grady contrasts Saturday in Portlaoise with Sunday in Croke Park. The Leinster final, and Kilkenny doing what Kilkenny invariably do.
"I sat behind the goal up in the Davin side to have a good look at Kilkenny. Once a guy gets a ball on his own, he pumps the ball down the field 100 yards. And let the guys up there - and TJ Reid would say - win the dirty ball. It's man to man stuff: 'I'll beat my man on the ball.'"
At the same time, we witnessed Kilkenny's ability to engineer one-on-one battles in their own forward line while - bar the odd Galway incision - congesting space in their own defence.
"They're supreme at how they do it," O'Grady ventures. "They're clinical to watch, and they make great use of the long ball. But the guys up front know they have to win the 50-50 ball - and sometimes it's a 40-60 ball.
"I think too many teams are trying to give this ball to a forward who gets out on his own, but hitting the ball to the corner flag a lot - and there's no goals out there.
"Very often they're playing ping-pong over and back the field, as happened in Portlaoise on Saturday."
Still, O'Grady is guardedly optimistic about the championship prospects of whoever emerges from this latest collision of green and blue.
He wasn't in Mullingar for Limerick's "banana skin" fixture with Westmeath but recalls being "terrified going down there" as hot favourites when managing Dublin in 1997. For Limerick it was very much a case of "a win is a win" ... move onto the next day.
"The big matches start now. Next Saturday night - two big matches. And the winners actually could go a long way. Any of the four, in my book, could go a long way - if they hit form," O'Grady predicts.
All four are craving momentum, having struggled at different stages this sumer.
"Cork haven't been putting matches back-to-back," he says, "and Clare just had their first (championship) win in a few years. Clare probably have the most momentum at the moment, because I thought they played a very good match against Kilkenny in the relegation match in the league.
"I'd say they're building on that now. They will gather momentum."
But so too can Dublin - if they embrace the quickest route to Limerick's goal. The sliotar is in their court.