Q&A with former Offaly hurler Brian Carroll: ‘Preparation and commitment is on another planet’

Brian Carroll announced his retirement from Offaly hurling this week. Son of two-time All-Ireland medal-winner Pat, he was a member of the last Offaly team to capture the Leinster minor crown (2000) and played in the provincial senior hurling final back in 2004.

Q&A with former Offaly hurler Brian Carroll: ‘Preparation and commitment is on another planet’

Q: What is your over-riding emotion when looking back on 14-years in the green, white and gold?

A:

I am very grateful to have been able to play at the top level for such a period of time. The body held up reasonably well for those 14-years and I’m fortunate it did. Success, in terms of championship medals, didn’t come my way, but I loved hurling with Offaly. I loved playing against the best teams. That feeling of knowing you are mixing it with the very best, that was the big thing for me.

Q: Are you disappointed that you don’t have more than a pair of Division 2 league medals to show for almost a decade and a half of service?

A:

As a young lad you want to win Leinster championships, an All-Ireland and All Stars, especially when you come from the house I did with all of dad’s medals and trophies. You grew up watching all the videos from the eighties and I knew all the games off by heart.

I was part of the Offaly minor team that won the Leinster championship in 2000. Offaly won the Leinster U21 and reached the All-Ireland senior final the same year. The future was bright. I started off on the senior panel in 2002 and you were training with the likes of Kevin Martin and Hubert Rigney. I played with John Troy in his last game. I played with Brian Whelahan and Johnny Dooley. These were legends of the game in my eyes. We reached an All-Ireland quarter-final in 2003, a Leinster final in 2004. Things were looking up. Unfortunately, our graph dropped dramatically over the years. I set out to win a hell of a lot more than I did.

Q: Regrets?

A:

The Leinster final in 2004 is the big one that we let slip. It was the closest we came to winning silverware during my time with Offaly.

We hurled very well that afternoon, but Damien Fitzhenry had a blinder in goals for Wexford. Wexford got their two goals at the right time (2-12 to 1-11 the final score).

Another regret would be the fact that we didn’t get as much out of the team under Joe Dooley (manager from 2008-11). We had fine hurlers and played very well in big games, it was just that we didn’t get over the line.

Q: Proudest moment?

A:

The afternoon I made my championship debut. I came on against Kilkenny in Semple Stadium in the summer of ‘02. That was a dream come true. To be put in against the best team in the country and to get on the scoreboard was something I’ll never forget. It was a Leinster semi-final, but was played in Thurles as Croke Park was unavailable at the time. I marked Richie Mullally when introduced first and then Philly Larkin. It was quite the baptism of fire, going in against two of the finest defenders in the game at the time.

Q: Lowest ebb?

A:

Either of the two massive championship defeats at the hands of Kilkenny, 2005 (6-28 to 0-15) or 2014 (5-32 to 1-18). They were terribly demoralising. There is no better team to punish you than Kilkenny when you are not at the pitch of proceedings and they really put us to the sword for the full 70 minutes in both games. In true Kilkenny fashion, they just never let up.

Q: Having hit 1-10 of Offaly’s 1-18 in the 2014 hammering, you said after the game that Offaly was “light years behind in terms of underage development and the facilities that we’re working with aren’t good enough”. Frustration get the better of you that evening in Nowlan Park?

A:

You invest so much physically into inter-county hurling, but you also invest so much emotionally too. Defeats like that cut deep, they hurt. We’re frustrated where we are as a county at the moment, how low we have dropped. There are good hurlers in Offaly and it is just about preparing them to the best of our ability. We all need to be on the one wavelength and share the common goal which is bringing Offaly back to where it should be.

Q: What specifically needs to be done to return Offaly into the top eight?

A:

In Offaly, we approach hurling with the mentality of letting the ball do the work. We’ve probably not yet realised the need for physical preparation of our players. That starts at underage. Emphasis on strength and conditioning needs to be improved. I do believe we have good hurlers, but we need hurlers who are physically prepared to last the full 70 minutes against the top teams. That is not something that happens in a year or two. That is something that takes time. There is the whole aspect of belief then. We can’t be aiming to win All-Irelands at the moment. We need to be realistic. I was part of the Offaly minor team that won the Leinster championship in 2000. We stopped Kilkenny winning 10-in-a-row. We expected to achieve. There is certainly a different mind-set now. The players that are coming up along probably don’t see the carrot at the end of the stick as easily as players coming through in other counties. It is going to take a bit of time and patience to turn around the county’s fortunes and the mind-set of the players.

Q: Greatest change in the game you have noticed?

A:

The preparation and commitment is on another planet compared to when I first came in. Hurling inter-county was always a serious game, it was never taken light-heartedly, but the preparation nowadays has gone through the roof in terms of your diet and the gym work you are expected to put in. It is 24/7. When you are in the bubble, there is no escaping it. Because of the professionalism that has now been incorporated into the approach of county teams, the game has sped up so much and any weaknesses will be exploited. It is moving away from the amateur ethos, but at the same time, players are so engrossed in it and you’ll do anything you can to make sure you are physically and mentally prepared to the best of your ability. Lads are willing to invest that time, irrespective of what the outcomes are.

Q: Will the increasing levels of commitment lead to shorter career spans in the future?

A:

I think so, even if there will always be those individuals who buck the trend. I hope to go away this summer and that is something I have never done before. It is a chance for my wife and I to see the world. That really isn’t an option when you are playing. With the way society is nowadays, players want to get out and enjoy themselves a bit more. There are so many opportunities out there that they aren’t going to be willing to put in more than 10-years.

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