Rebel Harnedy living the dream

You try to phrase it delicately but in fairness to Seamus Harnedy, he doesn’t beat around the bush.

As a debutant in the Munster SHC last June, Cork wouldn’t have been expecting miracles from him, so...

“Were expectations low enough? I’d be the first to say that,” says the affable UCC student.

“One of the locals down our way after the Clare game said, ‘we only came down to Limerick to see you play 40 or 50 minutes before you were taken off and they brought in the cavalry’.

“I didn’t get odd with him, either. I was expecting something similar myself.”

Harnedy had only made Cork’s extended panel in 2012 and didn’t trail a litany of rave notices from his underage career, but he had an inkling he’d be in the shake-up for the Clare game.

Training had gone well, and a fortnight out from the championship, he starred in a challenge game with Imokilly in Riverstown.

“But it was still a special moment, when they named out the team I was on it. That’s the dream, isn’t it?”

The reality wasn’t long coming around. On a warm day in Limerick the dressing room in the Gaelic Grounds was measured enough, he recalls — “Management would have been very good, stressing that it was just another game, 15 on 15, that the atmosphere was just a bit more hyped,” — but out on the field, the event took some getting used to. Take the parade.

“That was a fair ordeal alright, but Cian McCarthy was outstanding. He was centre-forward so I was right behind him in the line of players, and three or four times he turned around and said, ‘Just imagine you’re back in Pilmore, a few locals watching you. Soak it in, it’s like nothing else’.

“He really helped me out. Fellas generally do their own thing and it’s an anxious time for lads, the five minutes before the start, but everyone in the dressing room was very encouraging.”

Harnedy began well and survived.

“The first ball? I was lucky enough to catch it, I got past Brendan Bugler and I was thinking, ‘If I can throw this over the bar, I’m off to a flyer’ — but I fluffed it. Soon after that, though, I got another chance.”

A quarter of an hour into the game, Harnedy fastened onto a loose ball and charged through, blazing the ball over the bar from inside the 21.

A goal was on, though not for him, maybe.

“When I got through really I should have passed to Stephen Moylan, he was inside me, all on his own — I apologised to him often enough since — but I put it over the bar.

“That settled me down, really, and the ball fell my way that afternoon. There are tougher afternoons ahead for me, obviously, but that day went well enough.”

Cian McCarthy’s reference to Pilmore is telling. Harnedy’s All Star season has put his club, St Ita’s, firmly in the spotlight. He’s quick to pay tribute to them.

“I know people have said playing with Ita’s didn’t help me, but I don’t agree with that. You can play with your senior divisional team, or the college, as I did — I played for UCC in the Waterford Crystal, which mightn’t be the most glamorous games for some people, but I played for UCC two years in a row against Cork so that was another shop window.

“The door isn’t shut on junior hurlers. Management see more senior games, maybe, but it’s not that junior players aren’t noticed. And the standard of junior hurling in East Cork is pretty high anyway.

“I was lucky that when I came into UCC, I was on the Imokilly panel. I didn’t have inter-county experience, but I got onto the freshers team and pushed for a place in the Fitzgibbon team in second year.”

He’s been shaped by more than the club and UCC, of course. His mum Kathy won All-Irelands for Cork in camogie and his father Sean hurled for Waterford. They’re a big influence.

“They would have had me hurling quite early and they’ve been hugely supportive. And I had plenty bad days along the way. I certainly wasn’t a stand-out hurler at U14, U16 but they would have been great to pick me up and encourage me.

“As spectators? I wouldn’t see how nervous my mother is but I’m told she’s pretty nervous. I’d say all parents are the same, be it Sciath na Scoil or the All-Ireland or whatever.”

Well, he brought it up. During the year a mate of his posted a shot of the young Harnedy on Twitter, tearful after defeat in a primary school game.

“Oh yeah,” he laughs. “I still get a slagging over that. We lost on a Friday afternoon and when I opened the Examiner the next day there I was, bawling my eyes out. Tough times for a 12-year-old. We got over it.”

His mother’s experience of All-Ireland finals helped his preparation.

“After I finished my college exams I went home for a while, and my parents were outstanding in deflecting away all the attention from me.

“There was bunting up in the village, RTÉ News were down, they did Up for the Match in the hall, and I was delighted to get all that support, but they kept all that away from me in case it put extra pressure on me.

“Living up in Cork made it easier, too. People mean well, in fairness, they all want you to do well, but you want to stay fresh for the game, too.”

The game, or games, were two of the most memorable All-Ireland finals of recent years. Croke Park was everything he hoped: “The roar when you get a score or when you hit a wide and the quality of the pitch...

“When Conor [Lehane] got the goal the first day, the roar was unbelievable. Just the sound. I couldn’t comprehend words or any meaning in what they were saying, just a wall of noise, pure and simple.”

For a player whose energy and pace were such a huge addition to Cork, he found the speed of senior championship frightening.

“The first day against Clare I was shocked. Knackered after 20 minutes, until my second wind kicked in.

“You can’t let your guard down for a minute or your man is gone up the field. The fact that it’s not the same time of year as the Fitzgibbon is significant because the ball is flying everywhere. Frantic is the best word. You’re on edge the whole time. We didn’t play any game where you were eight points up and you could relax.”

True enough. They only beat Kilkenny by five points in the qualifiers, which meant the game was in the mixer for most of the 70 minutes.

“It was my first time ever playing against them, having grown up watching them demoralise teams. Destroy them.

“Their mark of respect was to try to beat you by 15 points if they were winning by 10. Phenomenal. They missed a lot of frees that day, Henry Shefflin was sent off, but we were well up for that game. We were never as disappointed as we were after the Limerick game, and we were keen to make up for that.

“In Thurles I wasn’t thinking, ‘oh, that’s Henry Shefflin, that’s Tommy Walsh’. I have huge respect for them but you’re there to do a job for Cork as well, you’re representing Cork and you want to stand up for your own.

“They’re not gone by any stretch, they’ll be back next year.”

His team-mate Conor Lehane recently said he only appreciated what experience meant now that he had some of his own. Harnedy says he’s improved in terms of dealing with a big occasion.

“I’d have been more nervous as a young fella, I’m better at that now. I take in the occasion, the surroundings, when I’m playing.

“It’s natural to have nerves but it’s all about managing those nerves. I try to make sure nerves aren’t the reason I don’t have a good game; if I don’t play well I don’t play well, but I don’t want nerves to be the reason for that.”

We’ve got to mention the dramatic closing stages of the drawn All-Ireland, of course.

“I never thought it was over. They’d led for the whole game and a team will nearly always get another chance.

“And he took a great score, Domhnall O’Donovan, it was a long way out. I wouldn’t have shot from there.

“It was heartbreaking to see it go over.”

He pocketed a goal himself in the replay, of course, following up the rebound from a Lehane shot.

“It was the best feeling of all time. I only got a half-shot on it really. It was probably one of those shots that if you connected sweetly, the keeper would have saved it, but it rolled in.

“Two minutes later, though, they had another goal. No consolation.”

He’s finishing off his Masters and working part-time in GE Healthcare “They’ve been brilliant to me all year, particularly my boss Lisa Burton”), and now it’s quiet he can look back at the year that changed his life.

“If you told me last year I’d play a whole senior championship without getting taken off, I’d have snatched your hand off. If I’d got involved as an influential sub, I’d have been over the moon. The year was unbelievable.”

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