Hurling Hands - Johnny Callinan: ‘Sean Stack broke my finger but I’m certain he didn’t mean it’

Hurling Hands - Johnny Callinan: ‘Sean Stack broke my finger but I’m certain he didn’t mean it’

Clare hero Johnny Callinan wonders what has happened to all the broken fingers.

Hurling Hands - Johnny Callinan: ‘Sean Stack broke my finger but I’m certain he didn’t mean it’

Something that’s interesting to me nowadays is a feature you don’t see nearly as much as you did years ago.

Back then, in nearly every championship game, you’d see a player go off holding his hand or his finger and you’d say to whoever you were with, ‘well, his hand’s gone, anyway’.

I don’t know whether it’s down to gloves or fellas protecting themselves better or what, but generally speaking you don’t see as many lads gone with broken hands or fingers, whereas years ago there’d nearly always be ‘so-and-so has a broken thumb, he’s gone for the next day and the game after that as well’.

For myself, that part of the back of my left hand was broken twice, including in a league match in Croke Park. I used to hit the ball almost backhanded, and fellas seemed to find it easy to come across me and hit down across my hands — a player could come across my right-hand side and get me.

Because of that, most of my injuries seemed to come there, on my left hand. My thumb was broken badly when I went for the very first ball of the Munster U21 hurling final against Waterford — I know who did it, too, though I know him well, and he still denies it!

I stayed on that day though I asked to be taken off at half-time, and I wasn’t. I had to play with one hand, which was ridiculous.

This finger here is a bit lumpy: I think it was Sean Stack broke that in a Fitzgibbon Cup game, he was with Maynooth, but I’d also be 147% certain he didn’t mean to break it.

They’re fine, really: although I’d struggle to close my right hand fully, it’s the left that took the punishment. I don’t think I would have worn a glove — I was in my mid-30s before I even wore a helmet, after all. The big problem in my era was that we all had long hair, too, so wearing a helmet could make you very sweaty.

Most of my hand injuries came in my teens and early 20s, and you do get smarter, definitely. When I heard the expression ‘he’s got craftier over the years’ I didn’t believe it, but even subconsciously, I think, you definitely get smarter and you can protect yourself better.

I went to Torpey’s for my hurleys, and Conway’s in Larch Hill, and when I was playing with Clare, Justin (McCarthy, coach) and Sean Hehir were very big into the hurleys. Justin might have 14 hurleys in the boot of the car depending on whether it was a wet night or a cold night, or whatever. He was a breath of fresh air.

Was it psychological, paying so much attention to what you were playing with? Maybe. You’d certainly think that you couldn’t play with just a plain piece of ash, and you’d also take a shine to one hurley over the other — you might have two which were the same length, the same weight, all of that, but one would feel just a little better.

I didn’t break too many of them — I don’t know whether that’s good or bad — but when you did break one, oh God... it was on to the second or third hurley then, and for me those were very much the second or third hurleys.

Hurling Hands - Johnny Callinan: ‘Sean Stack broke my finger but I’m certain he didn’t mean it’

Of the Clare lads I played with, Seamus Durack, had fantastic hands — not just to block shots, he’d started off out the field, but he would have had the best hands out of the couple of generations of Clare hurlers I played with.

In the first half of my career Éamonn Cregan was very, very good. In the second half, Tom Cashman. I lifted his hurley one day in a Munster dressing room and asked him where the rest of it was: it was like a small hurley cut down the middle. It was half the weight of what I was trudging around with, anyway, and he was still able to hit a wet ball 90 yards.

Looking back now, our hurleys were all too long, anyway, but we probably thought we needed them a certain length to get the leverage. They had a template for my hurleys in Larch Hill and it had a very heavy poll, and a heavy bas, but I think they had good ash, which makes a difference. Now players can hit the ball 100 yards with a 20-inch hurley, it seems.

Then again I remember a trip to the States when one of the Wexford lads had his hurleys stolen, and he had to use something for a game and you wouldn’t beat cows out of a field with it. The first free he got was 80 yards out and he put it over the bar and 30 yards further — so the hands have a lot to do with it, too.

Nowadays... it’s very hard to look past Bubbles (John O’Dwyer) if you’re looking for hands. Tommy Walsh was fantastic, almost a contrast, but I think there might be things Bubbles does and he doesn’t know himself how he does them.

Interview: Michael Moynihan

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