SPARE a thought for Conal Keaney today.
Last Friday morning the Dublin hurler and his motorbike had an unyielding encounter with a van, which left Keaney with a serious leg injury and an early ending to a very promising season. You can only imagine the escalating disbelief of Anthony Daly three days ago, wild rumour hardening into sober fact with the passing of the hours.
Yesterday Dublin got themselves to an All-Ireland semi-final without Keaney, but it’s not the first time that a good hurler has found out the hard way that a motorbike isn’t always the best option for getting around.
In 1969 Justin McCarthy, then at the peak of a considerable hurling career, had a serious motorbike accident not long before he and his Cork teammates were due to play Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
McCarthy’s leg was broken but recovery from such a severe injury was a little more complicated four decades ago, as the former’s autobiography recounts.
McCarthy had to have his leg broken again by medics because it didn’t set properly the first time, and though he eventually returned to the field of play, lining out with Cork in an All-Ireland final against Kilkenny in 1972, he admits in his book that he was conscious of the legacy of the injury, naturally enough.
Keaney can bank on far more sophisticated medical procedures, both in the immediate repair and the subsequent rehabilitation of the injury, but there’s a queer circularity to the whole affair.
Because of McCarthy’s injury, he became involved in coaching hurlers at a far younger age than might have otherwise been the case, overseeing the Antrim’s preparations for All-Ireland intermediate honours before he was 30, for example.
McCarthy also directed the fine Clare side of Ger Loughnane, Colm Honan, Sean Hehir and co from the sideline in the Munster finals of 1977 and 1978 against Cork — games he might well have played in himself, wearing red and white, if he hadn’t suffered such a severe injury.
Though that Clare side never made the championship breakthrough to the All-Ireland series and Croke Park in those pre-back door days, they served as heroes and exemplars for young hurlers in the Banner — the likes of a young Anthony Daly of Clarecastle, who is nowadays coach of Dublin, and of Conal Keaney.
There would be an odd symmetry if Keaney were to pop up in a couple of years coaching a side like Laois or Carlow, say, to a breakthrough, or to a Leinster final. Which isn’t to say he’s done with playing — with any luck and some hard work he should be playing next year — but if you see him in a bainisteoir’s bib at some point in the future, consider the circumstances, and the echo of another man’s path.
Not to make light of Keaney’s mishap, but there is the mild consolation that it could, indeed, have been even worse. He could have ended up like Lew Jenkins.
The readers of this column, educated souls that you all are, will no doubt recall that Jenkins was famous for a) being one of the greatest lightweight boxers of all time and b) being one of the greatest wastes of natural boxing talent of all time.
Jenkins was raised in brutal poverty, accompanying his itinerant labourer father all over Texas, and as a teenager gave take-on-all-comers carnival boxing a go though he only weighed eight and a half stone soaking wet.
He eventually graduated to a title shot and knocked out the Herkimer Hurricane Lou Ambers to win the world lightweight title in 1940.
The Sweetwater Swatter promptly went cracked, blowing practically every dollar he had on carousing, generally, and whiskey, specifically. (The signs had always been ominous: he only packed in smoking for a couple of weeks before facing Ambers, for instance). Scheduled for a routine defence of his title in December 1941, Jenkins’ long-suffering manager got a phone call in the middle of the night: his boxer had crashed a motorcycle, fallen 60 feet down the side of an embankment and broken three vertebrae in his neck.
Jenkins couldn’t train but he took off the removable cast for the fight itself, which he lost on points.
(Incidentally, Jenkins later found his calling in the US military, winning a Silver Star in World War II for bravery under fire. He left the Army, he said later, “because I had three million bosses”).
Despite everything, Anthony Daly could have had a tougher weekend.
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