I broke my two thumbs within a few weeks of each other one season. I had a pin inserted in my left thumb in January 1999, when I broke it, and then when I came back the following month I broke the right thumb.
I broke the two last fingers on my left hand, the baby finger and the one next to it - my catching hand, not surprisingly. Putting your hand up to catch puck-outs, you’re always in the firing line.
I knew every time they were broken. In the picture you can see the top of my first finger on the right hand is twisted from a break, it pops in and pops out when I catch the ball: if the ball hit the very top of the finger it upsets the whole finger.
I just have to get on with it. A doctor tried to put it in for good after a game with Lismore once - three or four anesthetics to deaden it, but she still couldn’t get it back in. She said I’d have to break it and get it re-set before it’d be right.
I had a few other breaks as well, but it was all part of the game. Putting up your hand you’re a target, it’s a contact sport.
Nowadays I think catching balls out of the air is a skill that’s almost dying out. There’s more emphasis now on bringing the ball to ground and then trying to win possession, not to mention the short puck-out to the corner-back - all of which means you’re not landing the ball on the half-forward line.
There are still half-forwards who’ll contest the ball, the likes of Gearoid Hegarty from Limerick will put up his hand, but it’s not always the biggest man who wins it. Tommy Walsh from Kilkenny often caught the ball over my head because his handling was good and he timed his jump. JJ Delaney was another great man to field ball either side of his man.
But now it’s about getting the long delivery down to the ground to contest the second ball, to use your strength and pace to win it there.
It’s nearly a disadvantage now to win the ball cleanly because you can be bottled up immediately by opponents, and the intensity those opponents bring to tackling is huge. I remember when Cork were playing Michael Cussen, he was so big we’d leave him catch it most of the time because you’d get a hook or block in much quicker than you’’d outfield him.
Hurleys? I started off with Jim O’Brien in Drangan in Tipperary, then I went local, to Seán de Búrca Hurleys in Clashmore. This year I got a couple from Aidan Walsh, the Cork hurler. I was looking at Patrick Horgan’s hurley, I liked the big bas so I got onto Aidan, who makes them, and got a couple of nice ones from him.
I’d be very picky. Any hurley I’d get I’d trim a bit, sand it down to how I wanted it, maybe lighten it. And I always have two black grips.
I’d use a 37 inch hurley, one of the bigger ones, but I don’t think you ever use the full length of the hurley anyway in a game.
If I were 60 yards out from goal, all on my own, I’d use the full swing but more often than not you’re under pressure from someone so you need to shorten your swing.
Justin McCarthy was as good as everyone says to fix your hurley, by the way. He’d always make it better, you’d give it to him and when it came back it’d be fantastic. He’d know what kind of hurley you’d like, and that went for every player - he’d take a new hurley, ‘I’ll fix that, Dan’, and it was just a dream to play with when he came back. He’s just gifted.
Fellas who stood out in my time playing? Paul Flynn, what he could do with the ball..... Paudie Mahony more recently, a ten out of ten man.
Bubbles (O’Dwyer) and Seamus Callanan are top class, great men to pick out a pass - I think Liam Sheedy’s influence can be seen there. Finding a pass is a great test - Austin Gleeson did it with Jamie Barron in the All-Ireland semi-final two years ago, and Maurice (Shanahan) found Shane Bennett in a game against Dublin. The skills in the game now are unbelievable.