The quiet man has the last word

THESE are the options for a chat, says Timmy McCarthy over the phone.

Option a) meet up for lunch in Fermoy.

Option b) call to his farm in Castlelyons around noon to go hunting until around 4pm, he says. Bring oilskins. He’ll have a horse ready.

Option a) it is.

“I just was never that interested in doing interviews,” he says, when we meet up. “I gave an interview before St Colman’s played a colleges All-Ireland and we lost, so . . .

“And then I gave an interview before the 1999 final and the reporter asked me about the farm and I pointed for the photographer and said ‘this is our land here’, but I was pointing out over most of Castlelyons in the photo.

“The lads at home gave me a desperate slagging over it, me saying I owned all that land. I was only joking about the horse this morning, though.”

Last year was always going to be his last season with Cork, he says. If the season fizzled out for the Leesiders, he has happier memories of a decade earlier, when he first brought the famous white helmet to national attention.

“I’d say the first game in 1999 was special,” he says. “It’s your debut, playing senior for Cork. You dream of playing for Cork and then it’s there. I think I was marking Brian Greene that day, but we had six lads making their debut, and to win as underdogs was fantastic.

“Sean Óg (O hAilpín) and Joe (Deane) had played senior for a couple of years at that stage as well, so you had a lot of fellas coming through from the one minor and U21 team. We’d won an awful lot – in colleges, minor, U21 – and we were used to it. We just went with the flow that year.”

Soon after things changed. For a long time McCarthy was the target of abuse from the moronic element on the terraces, and one of his managers suggested it was down to his height and being stationed on the wing, next to the crowd. It was never really a problem for the player himself, though. Opponents on the field rather than hurlers on the ditch were more of an issue.

“It bothered me now and again, but it was probably worse for my parents in the stands, they could hear it more. By and large it didn’t bother me, to be honest – if it was going to affect me I’d have packed it in years ago.

“In terms of players, Tony Browne was always difficult. He always seemed to get onto the ball very quickly, and that was tough for me because I needed to get there fast to get the ball – my touch wouldn’t have been as good as some of the other lads we had – and he was very good to get to the loose ball. Which was my game as well, coming onto the breaking ball.”

He did plenty of that over the years, particularly in Croke Park, and theorists believed the wide open spaces in Dublin suited him better than the Munster championship. He has a down to earth reason for that.

“Part of that might be down to the fact that if we were playing in Croke Park for an All-Ireland semi-final or final we’d go up the night before and stay in a hotel. And that would mean not working on the farm, whereas if we were playing in Thurles I’d probably work away most Saturdays before the game.

“So I might be more relaxed on the Sunday, maybe more tuned in, which might explain doing well in Croke Park.”

McCarthy hurled through the revolution in team preparation, and he can recall the dawn of the new age, back when Clare were announcing themselves as standard-bearers in preparation.

“It was just coming in when I started in 1998 – Sean McGrath would have been talking about hydration back then and we would have been getting into pasta and chicken and so on – and fellas were getting cuter when it came to preparing.

“Clare maybe had something to do with that, the training they did with Ger Loughnane. But that’s the way it goes. If Tipperary win the All-Ireland this year because they did a load of downhill running in training, then every team will be at that.

“Clare brought up the fitness levels, and everyone had to do that. Whatever Kilkenny are doing, teams will have to do that bit more to get past them. Cork drove it on from 2004 to 2006, Kilkenny improved on that, and some other team will improve on that to get ahead.”

Which brings us to 2010. McCarthy cites the usual suspects – Kilkenny Tipp, Galway – but feels Cork will be more organised and better prepared this year.

“And they’re not that old. Donal Óg and Sean Óg are 33, Ben and Jerry are over 30, but they’re some of the fittest lads on the team. The rest are all under 30.

“We missed out on preparation with Cork due to the strikes the last couple of years, and it was too late last year when the whole thing was resolved. The year before the same. If they get a good run into the championship this year they’ll be better.”

It’ll be a different year for him. He wants to thank those who helped him get away from the farm for training all those years – father Donal and mother Christine, sister Claire, Pat Carey from the farm relief – and he’s looking forward to spending more time with wife Breffni and little Sam, one-year-old.

But he’s not going to vanish.

“Retire? I’m still going to be playing for Castlelyons. You’ll see the white helmet around for a while yet.”

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