The question is delicately poised and Donal O'Grady knows where it's coming from. Is he in any way envious of Limerick's hurling success?
It's not exactly taboo and nor should it be, and still there was some surprise when Ronan O'Gara admitted in his Irish Examiner column last week that there was a period after his retirement when he secretly hoped the Irish rugby team would lose, specifically in their incredibly close call against the All Blacks in 2013.
Citing an excerpt from Damien Lawlor’s uniquely insightful book When the World Stops Watching: Life after The Game, O’Gara also openly recognised some of the instinctively mixed feelings that come with being torn away from the sport that was once such a central part of his existence – and in that way O’Grady’s no different.
He served some 14 seasons with Limerick, making his debut in 2004, the first player from the Granagh-Ballingarry club to represent the county; he played in the 2007 All-Ireland final loss to Kilkenny, and captained the team for two years, including for their Munster final win over Cork in 2013.
That however was his only piece of silverware; O'Grady retired in 2016, two years before Limerick went on to win a first All-Ireland since 1973. This year, he came on board as a selector under manager John Kiely and witnessed Limerick win back-to-back Munster titles for the first time since 1981. They are now poised for another All-Ireland showdown against Waterford on Sunday.
In fact they’ve gone all of 2020 unbeaten; is he in any way envious?
“I wish I was part of it, no doubt,” O’Grady does admit. “I was asked to Up for Match or something like that. in 2018, and someone asked me was I jealous, even a bit of me. Then again after the match, they were doing fund-raising or something.
“But no, not one bit. You’re absolutely totally engrossed and wanted them to win. When you see in my career, what we went through, for every two or three bad performances, we gave a bit of hope with a good one. But then we just couldn’t have that consistency, early on.
“As we went on, 2012, 2013, we did manage to win that Munster title, get back some consistency, and then John [Kiely] took it on to a new level. But yeah, you’d give anything to win an All-Ireland medal, they’re hard things to come by.
“But at the end of the day, this group of players are a serious, serious bunch of players, and thank God they got over that line in 2018, because it probably does take the pressure off. Once that’s done. Every year it dragged on, and there’s no point saying otherwise, ’73 was still raising its head. So that was important.”
Indeed O'Grady reckons winning that 2018 All-Ireland went beyond the immediate result: it lifted the last weight of 45 years of expectation.
“I would say so yes. Because before you could feel that anxiety in the crowd. You can block all these things out, and we do control as much as we can, but that can happen. But I know these lads see last year as it is, this year as it is, and treat every game as the next game. That’s the way they’ve approached it, and it’s worked so far.
“From looking at the lads from the outside, from the couple of the years as a supporter after I finished, I was looking at their physique, the speed, players getting faster and faster, and I was questioning whether would I ever be able to do something like that inside there
“Then when you see them up close at training, and the whole scientific approach, it’s gone to another level as well, and all that’s incorporated into Paul Kinnerk’s methods of training, it’s a totally new level for me, looking in anyway. And obviously other counties are at that level as well.
“I would say as things go on, and you see the expense involved in running a senior set up now, compared to seven, eight 10 years ago. And some of the games are spectacular to watch, the power and pace and skill of these guys. And everything that goes with it, a pleasure to watch. You look back 10 and 20 years ago and obviously there are great players, but I just think hurling is in a great place at the moment, and thank God Limerick are there and thereabouts.”