EDDIE O’BRIEN has credited fellow All-Ireland hat-trick hero Lar Corbett with achieving a much more difficult feat than his own 40 years ago.
Tipperary’s Corbett recorded the first three-goal haul in an All-Ireland hurling decider since Cork’s O’Brien in 1970 against Wexford.
Corbett’s effort helped Tipp shock Kilkenny 4-17 to 1-18 at Croke Park last Sunday, four decades after O’Brien’s hat-trick contributed to a record 64-point final scoreline as Cork beat Wexford 6-21 to 5-10.
“What Corbett did is so hard to do, more hard than what I did,” O’Brien said from his home in New York City, where he has lived for the past three decades.
“With today’s training methods, the guys are so sharp, they’re bigger, stronger and it was a wonderful feat.
“It’s a lot harder to score goals now. There was a guy at one stage tackled by five Tipperary players at the same time. Just think about it, that’s incredible. They arrived at the same time and each had a piece of the guy and it was all legit but it just goes to show the tenacity of the game today.
“If you look back at the videos of the old All-Irelands, the difference is phenomenal, it really is. Not that it wasn’t speedy years ago, and it was taken seriously, by some of us anyway, but today it’s mind-boggling.”
O’Brien, now 65 and the retired former director of security at Manhattan’s Rockefeller Centre, admitted he had not imagined his feat would be matched.
“To be very honest, I didn’t think it would done be again in my lifetime,” he said. “I know how much you need luck and the bounce of the ball.
“When I did it you had to be very lucky to get three, the right place at the right time. Skill, of course, is part of it but everything has to work out right for you.
“Three goals in any game is special but a final? The ball doesn’t come to you that much in an All-Ireland and I really thought it would never be done again.
“Guys today are much stronger, faster, than when we played. They train all year round, have weight programmes, fitness programmes and the marking is so tight today and they’re so fit that it’s really hard to shine.
“Since the 50s, 60s and 70s, training has changed 1000% . Not only do they not allow them to drink, they don’t allow them to do anything. It’s like a job and it’s so much harder to shine when it’s like that because there’s so much parity.”
O’Brien was at his summer home in the north New Jersey woods on Sunday, listening live to the radio commentary relayed via New York’s Fordham University radio station.
“Being away from the hustle and bustle I wasn’t anywhere near where they were showing it, otherwise I would have gone to watch,” he said.
“I didn’t give much hope for Tipp in the second-half and I was actually hoarse at one stage with the screaming and my neighbour came over and asked what was wrong.
“I told him I was listening to the Super Bowl of sports in Ireland and there could be a major upset.”
Corbett’s feat helped to make it just that and, O’Brien said, will sear the Tipp hurler’s name deep into the memories of the sport’s fans.
“I was happy for the guy. His life’s going to change and he won’t even realise it. People don’t forget stuff like that, I’ve found over the years. They do remember that you’re the guy who got the three goals. And it never goes away and anywhere he goes in Tipperary or across Ireland, it will be the first thing they bring up. At least that’s the way it is for me.”
Since retiring three years ago, O’Brien now divides his time between the country and the city where he is actively involved in keeping his Queens neighbourhood clean and tidy. “It’s good to give something back to your community and I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years,” O’Brien said.
The additional free time also helps him keep abreast of sporting matters at home.
“I was delighted for Tipperary. Kilkenny are a classy team but I really thought last year that Tipp were the better team. I was at the game and I really thought Tipp should have won.
It’s water under the bridge but at the time I thought the match-turning penalty Kilkenny got was a terrible decision.
“It’s really good for the game because Tipp have been in the wilderness for many years and it’s like with the football final coming up with Cork and Down. No matter who wins it’s good for the game because it’s not good for any sport when a team wins four or five in a row.
“So this is good for the game because, you know, five in-a-row, six, seven in-a-row, there’s no excitement.”