Club loyalties won’t count for much should Na Piarsaigh and Limerick star Will O’Donoghue face off against new Galway manager Shane O’Neill in this year’s championship.
O’Neill led Na Piarsaigh to All-Ireland glory in 2016 before stepping down from the role following their defeat to Cuala in 2018. Last November, he was appointed as the new Galway boss on a two-year term following the departure of Micheál Donoghue.
Galway failed to progress past the Leinster Championship last year but Will O’Donoghue remains baffled as to why the team who lost to Limerick in the 2018 final are not being touted as a top side for the new season.
O’Donoghue believes that O’Neill can bring a “fresh mindset” to the Tribesmen’s set-up.
“I think Shane is going to do a fantastic job. I think people probably overlooked Galway at the start of the year. They were probably in the top two or three for the All-Ireland going into that last night in the Leinster Championship and because of permutations, they never got out of the group.
“Everyone just forgot about them. Had they managed to get out of the group that evening, I’m sure a lot of people would have been fancying them to be in an All-Ireland final.
“Shane obviously has a fantastic group in that Galway team and I think Shane will bring an awful lot to the set-up. I’m sure he’s brought in good people, I’m sure he has a fresh mindset, bring in fresh ideas.
“I’m sure he’ll bring a lot of energy to the group, sometimes teams get a kick out of bringing someone new in, he might rejuvenate guys and find more in other guys.
“Shane’s a top guy, I’ve no doubt he’ll do good in Galway.”
While the duo are very familiar with each other, both as club mates and player/manager, O’Donoghue maintains that he has no insight into how O’Neill will approach life as an inter-county boss.
However, he is certain that neither he nor the former Limerick hurler will bat an eyelid should the Treaty men end up facing Galway at any stage this season.
“I don’t know what he’s got up his sleeve but I’m sure he’s going to try and get the best out of the attributes he has. You’ve got some fantastic forwards in Galway with an incredible knack to score and I’m sure he’s going to be focusing on that end of things.
“I don’t know what his intentions are, if I did, I’d tell John Kiely!
“I just wish Shane the best of luck in the journey that he’s on. If we end up bumping into Galway, myself and Shane are not going to lose any sleep over anything that happens on a personal level, it’ll be very competitive. He’s the manager of a team now and that’s all it is now.”
Having nailed down his spot in a highly-competitive midfield during the championship last year, O’Donoghue is eager to hit the ground running in this year’s Allianz League campaign. Injury ruled him out of the 2019 competition, and he missed out on picking up a medal as Limerick stormed to victory.
That frustration is only adding to his motivation for the season ahead.
“I only came back the week before the league final. I’d been carrying a knock on my knee, which was quite frustrating.
“To be honest I thought it was going to be the same thing again, where I didn’t feature in the league. Guys were playing phenomenally well throughout 2018, I just couldn’t get my foot in the door. The same thing happened, I didn’t get in for the Cork game and the lads were performing quite well.
“But I suppose when things didn’t go well the first day against Cork, the management decided to ring in a few changes, through no fault of anyone. It wasn’t any individual’s fault, they just rang in a couple of changes for the next game and I managed to get in and keep my spot. It’s a very tough thing to do, it’s not just on a Sunday in the Gaelic Grounds, or in Thurles that you do that, you have to compete in every single drill.
“I’m back this year for the league, I’m certainly happy that I get a good bank of work in over the next few months, and hopefully get as much exposure to physical, tough games as I can to hopefully prepare myself for championship.”
A nine-week festival of inter-county hurling gets underway on January 25th with the commencement of the Allianz Hurling Leagues. The exciting programme features 116 games across the four divisions in a campaign which will mark the 28th year of Allianz’ partnership with the GAA as sponsor of the Allianz Leagues, making it one of the longest-running sponsorships in Irish sport.