Pat Gilroy’s Dublin hurling exit ‘like a death in the family’
Eoghan O’Donnell says news sent shockwaves among players but they must move on
Kieran Read of the New Zealand All Blacks during a hurling skills competition with members with Dublin players. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
It felt like a death in the family, the dropping of a bomb even, Dublin hurler Eoghan O’Donnell sensing the exaggeration but nonetheless expressing the esteem held for previous manager Pat Gilroy.
Gilroy’s decision to step aside after one just season certainly caught most people by surprise, Dublin’s 2011 All-Ireland winning football manager conceding to a suddenly increased work load: the impression he left on O’Donnell is certain too, something it seems he’s still coming to terms with.
“When Pat left it was like a death in the family almost, a shock to everyone,” he says. “We had such a good year last year, and it came out of the blue completely. I was in Croatia on holiday and Pat phoned me and I was thinking this is about physio or something like that, so it was like bomb dropped.
“When it came across Pat’s desk, that he was working in Kenya, and he couldn’t turn down the opportunity, which is fair enough. But it doesn’t make it any easier for us because we really did get on well with him. The results maybe didn’t reflect but the whole hurling population knows last year was a significant improvement from us. There were a few phone calls after to see if we could make it work and he said no, he was going and would be away for most of the year, and that put a nail in it.”
Meanwhile O’Donnell and Dublin are starting to move on. Speaking at an AIG event at Castleknock Golf Course, exchanging some skills but mostly banter with members of the New Zealand rugby team, O’Donnell is already looking ahead to 2019 under the newly appointed Mattie Kenny, the two-time All-Ireland club winning manager with Cuala, who the players met for the first time last Friday.
“It took a while to settle down, and Mattie probably was the first choice between the players. His record speaks for itself and Cuala have been such an explosive team the last few years so players were kind of delighted to get the ball back rolling.
“When we met he made clear that this isn’t a transition period, we’re going to build on what happened last year. I can’t speak of the style of play, but it will be the same motto of hard working, tackling that we carry forward into next year.”
Just turned 23, O’Donnell is entering his sixth season as a Dublin senior, under his fourth different manager. Given he was born in Zimbabwe, where his parents were working with a teaching charity, he may well have ended up in another sport, but once they returned to Dublin before he started primary school he immediately fell in with Whitehall Colmcille.
“With Pat there was a buzz that I have never seen around Dublin hurling, lads couldn’t wait to get back to the gym. Last year was a special year for Dublin and was a real turning point so hopefully we can build on it for next year.
“But we really only started the way we could play in our last four matches of the year and from a performance point of view, all four of them were a success. I think someone told me a stat, we were leading in the 70th minute of every championship game this year so if you’d offered us that at the start of the year, results aside, we’d have bitten your hand off for it and used it as a progression for the next year.”
One clear turning point in 2018, he suggests, was their opening game in the Leinster championship against Kilkenny, who snatched victory at the death thanks to goal from Liam Blanchfield: “If we’d beaten Kilkenny in Parnell Park, it would have boosted us on an incredible, incredible amount. The momentum we would have got from that would have been so significant. It was a killer but it’s something you learn from.”
With Cuala surrendering their Dublin title this, Ballyboden St Enda’s emerging as champions, Kenny can call on all his club players from day one, but can he possibly influence the likes of Con O’Callaghan and Mark Schutte to opt for Dublin hurling?
“The pull of five All-Irelands in a row is massive. But it’s really only the people outside of our group that are talking about this. We as Dublin hurlers don’t come to training and say ‘god, I wish we had Mark Schutte or I wish we had these amazing footballers’. You deal with the hand you are given and that’s exactly what we do. We go out and we have 36 or 37 hurlers that want to represent Dublin, and in my books that’s more than enough, and what we’ll use to achieve success.”