Kilmallock's Paudie O'Brien is savouring the moment
LIMERICK hurler Paudie O'Brien cannot think of a better era to be a GAA player, countering the headline-grabbing "indentured slaves" metaphor peddled by Joe Brolly.
O'Brien is currently immersed in Kilmallock's quest for AIB All-Ireland club glory, counting down the days to Saturday's SHC semi-final against Portaferry in Thurles.
He launched into Kilmallock's club campaign straight after Limerick's Croke Park heartbreak against Kilkenny last August, but he views the demanding lifestyle of an elite player as something to be embraced rather than a reason for carping.
"It's changed a lot in the four or five years since I went in there, for the better," O'Brien emphasised.
"A lot of GAA players and people give out about it and it's topical at the moment - but I think it's a great time to be a GAA player.
"You look at the athletes out there at the moment whether it's hurlers or footballers: we've never had a group so articulate in interviews, so athletic, so everything.
"You can talk about the negatives and all the commitments, but no one puts a gun to anyone's head. All we ever wanted to do was play club or county hurling, and any time you get to run out at Croke Park and Thurles ... all the commitment doesn't affect what it's like to run out there."
Speaking of Semple Stadium, O'Brien accepted that Saturday's match venue is an advantage for the Limerick champions against their Down counterparts.
"It's only over the road for us," he said, "there's no point saying any different. It's a much longer trek for Portaferry but, realistically, the alternative was another half-hour to Portlaoise or Tullamore. Thurles is where you want to play, our favourite field, and where these big matches should be played."
Victory will ensure a Croke Park run-out for Kilmallock; beyond that, O'Brien is determined that Limerick make it back to GAA HQ this year - and then push on after consecutive All-Ireland semi-final traumas.
"Realistically, if we get up here for a big semi-final, it has to be won," he declared. "We can't just always be building and coming up for semi-final days and losing by a point or two and thinking that's good enough with a moral victory.
"Everyone says we should be progressing this year but it's very hard - Clare are going to be back, Tipp are going to be strong, Cork will be strong. We've no God-given right to get up here to a semi-final and progress to a final.
"We have a lot of work and, in fairness to management, they've dropped and few and brought in new lads to spice it up. If we work hard and get an opportunity on a big day, we just have to take it - simple as that."