William O’Donoghue moulded by formative years
By John Harrington
The year is 2007, and a Limerick City primary school representative team has just won the Mackey Cup for the first time in six years.
With the benefit of hindsight we can say it was one of the earliest signs that hurling in Limerick city was ready to set sail from the doldrums.
That Mackey Cup winning team featured three players – William O’Donoghue, Cian Lynch, and David Dempsey – who have now won two senior All-Irelands in the last three years.
Dan Goggin was one of the most talented players on the team but followed a different sporting path and is now a member of the Munster rugby squad.
2007 was sandwiched between two European Cup winning Munster campaigns in 2006 and 2008 and back then there was no bigger dream for children with a passion for sport in Limerick than to some day wear the red jersey themselves.
It’s a testament to how hurling’s profile has risen in the city since then that O’Donoghue, Lynch, and Dempsey now have a higher sporting profile in Limerick than Goggin.
O’Donoghue’s memories of the finer details of that Mackey Cup win are hazy, but he has no doubt that winning the tournament as well as multiple Limerick titles with John F Memorial Primary School in those years was a very formative period of his sporting life and also signposted better things to come for hurling in Limerick as a whole.
“I suppose it was the first thing I would have won where there were guys from different schools across Limerick City,” says O’Donoghue of the Mackey Cup.
“In JFK (John F Kennedy Memorial Primary School) we managed to win the U-10, U-11, and U-13 so that was a brilliant starting point in terms of competitive schools hurling.
“And obviously going into Ardscoil Rís then where you’re mingling with guys from different clubs and different backgrounds and stuff.
“I think that schools hurling is a brilliant education for a lot of kids in terms of the social aspect but also in terms of hurling development as well.
“I suppose when you look back that was probably around the time Munster were winning Heineken Cups and were huge on that scene.
“I think rugby was probably never bigger in Limerick than it was back then.
“That was 13 years ago, it’s not like Limerick hurling has been an overnight success. I think the work that Limerick GAA and schools in Limerick have done for hurling has certainly driven that trend towards hurling which is where we’ve arrived now.
“We didn’t get here all of a sudden. It was kind of backboned by schools like Castletroy and Ardscoil Rís and other schools like that. And also the whole primary school scene, the Mackey Cup, and the Limerick Leader Cup and all of those things. They all feed into where we are now.
“That’s the type of work that drives hurling in terms of its popularity and its uptake within the city to where it is at the moment. Obviously now it looks fantastic because the senior team is winning All-Irelands.
“But you need to be doing all that type of groundwork to get to a position like that.”
A blast from the past!
Many of the lads who were on the victorious Limerick City Mackey Cup team in 2007 will be in action for their @LimerickGAA clubs this weekend.@AllianzIreland @cnambnaisiunta @firstpastdpost @NapGAA pic.twitter.com/IkiCt2nL2E
— The Green and White (@LimerickGAAzine) August 7, 2020
When he considers how his hurling career unspooled from those primary school days, O’Donoghue can appreciate now how fortunate he was to grow up in an environment that hot-housed his talent.
His club, Na Piarsaigh, were on the rise, and in primary school at JFK and secondary school at Ardscoil Rís he had both peers and coaches who were hurling zealots.
Bernie Buckley was an especially important influence in the early days. Not only did he coach O’Donoghue in their club Na Piarsaigh, he also helped out with those all-conquering JFK primary school teams.
“I’d owe an awful lot of hurling career and everything that I stand for as a player to Bernie,” says O’Donoghue.
“It’s just mad when you look back at the early age schools career that he was the guy there and he was the guy driving six and seven lads on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. It’s amazing to see they had an effect on my career right up to the last few years.
“As insignificant as it might seem, winning the three competitions we played in JFK…to get a taste for winning in competitive sport is huge. We had a lot of the lads coming on the scene a few years ahead of me with the Na Piarsaigh senior team who would have gone through the exact same thing.
“I’m pretty sure Caherdavin won four Ola Cups in a row and as insignificant as that Ola Cup may seem back then, if you look at the Caherdavin team from when Kevin Downes would have been playing a lot of them would have been on the first Na Piarsaigh team to win a county title, so it’s mad the correlation between the two and how important it is.
“And to then go into Ardscoil where you compete in Rice Cup, White Cup, Dean Ryan, Harty Cup Finals and to be part of squads like that it’s huge exposure to what a level up would be like.
“It’s a huge feeder, it’s almost an academy in itself in terms of the time that’s put into it and the people who are drawn into it and the different talents that come into the school. It’s a fantastic hurling school and people want to get in there to be part of it.
“To be exposed to training with guys from Sixmilebridge and other clubs like that is a brilliant stepping stone.”
O’Donoghue has hurled with a good chunk of the current Limerick senior team since his primary or secondary school days and for him the joy that hurling has given him is more about the journey they’ve experienced together along the way than it is the two recent All-Ireland wins.
“No-one ever wins anything and puts the results of that, the medal or cup, up on a counter-top and look at it every day,” he says.
“That’s not what you revert back to. You revert back to the hardship and going through tough times and guys being there for you and you being there for them.
“Trainings, drills, and getting the most out ofeach other. When you go to those kind of places with fellas, it’s something that you can’t measure, it’s something you can never hold or touch or have up on a mantlepiece.
“But, you know, that’s kind of stuff that sticks with you. That’s the whole journey and that’s what you remember. As bad and all as running in Rathkeale is in January and February and in the lashing rain, that’s what brings you closer together.
“When everyone is there for a common goal and going through that type of hardship, that’s more valuable than anything else, than any accolade or medal. It’s definitely all about that journey, it’s definitely all about the friendships and what you do for people and what they do for you.
“The backroom team there with Limerick, there are guys there on that who are incredible people and do so much for all of us players.
“They’ll never the credit they deserve for that, but they’re incredible people to us, they’re incredible friends, and the memories of what they’ve done for us as a group will stick with us for life. So I think it very much is about that journey.”
What they’re achieving together as a team is now inspiring a new generation of hurlers in the county.
You can be sure that whatever primary school players get their hands on a Mackey Cup medal this year will already be dreaming big about wearing the green of Limerick some day.
Munster rugby was the biggest shown in town back when O’Donoghue, Lynch, and Dempsey won their Mackey Cup medals in 2007, but now Limerick is very much a hurling city first and foremost.
“Yeah, it’s huge in the city at the minute,” says O’Donoghue.
“I think it’s huge in the county of Limerick at the moment. Any time you have a team that are competitive and winning and giving people something to talk about and support, the people of Limerick are more than happy to get behind it.
“I just think that if you give the people of Limerick something to support and put principles behind it that they can stand by and support and align themselves with, you’re going to get fantastic support from the people of Limerick which is something that we’re very proud of.
“We’re aware of the happiness we’ve brought to an awful lot of people over the last few years and this year especially with it being such a difficult time for people. I would say hurling is huge in the city at the minute, there is a great buzz and long may it last, it’s a fantastic outlet for people.
“We’re certainly gung-ho and going back to do everything we can for the group, for Limerick, and for Limerick hurling.