The successful Kilkenny U21 team of 1999 that won the All-Ireland spawned a generation of iconic hurlers, from Michael Kavanagh to Eddie Brennan to Henry Shefflin.
Noel Hickey was also on that team and while the other three have since dipped their toes in management, the veteran full-back is still there chasing All-Ireland titles.
With 10 All-Ireland medals tucked away, nine as a senior and that U21 medal from 20 years ago, Hickey will return to Croke Park on Sunday
to chase No 11. He’ll be on club duty for Dunnamaggin in the final of the AIB All-Ireland club junior championship against Monaghan’s Castleblaney.
“I finished (for Kilkenny) against Galway in the 2012 All-Ireland, I came on as a sub for the last few minutes against Galway and I knew before the match that that day was going to be my last time playing in Croke Park, or I thought it was anyway,” said Hickey.
“It turned out to be my last day there with Kilkenny so it’s great to be back and to be back with the club especially. I’m looking forward to it.”
Only Shefflin, the most successful hurler of all time with 10 All-Ireland senior medals, has enjoyed more senior wins than Hickey. The farmer is locked on nine medals with former colleagues JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh and Noel Skehan.
He was there for all the big days; the first win under Cody in 2000, the four-in-a-row between 2006 and 2009 and that sweet victory over Galway in 2012 yet admits winning with Dunnamaggin would be something entirely different.
“Lads will say that whichever one you win at the time is the best one but the thing about the club is that, okay, you win with Kilkenny and it’s great but you kind of drift away from some of the county players whereas with the club, if you could win it, you’d still be meeting lads in the club in 20 years’ time, 30 years’ time and you’ll always be talking about that one day up in Croke Park and the All-Ireland,” said Hickey.
“There’ll be lads hurling up at Croke Park from our club that have never before played there and it’s going to be just a great occasion.
“But I suppose it’ll only be a great occasion if you can win on the day. If we lose it’ll be a big disappointment.”
Former Kilkenny colleague Brennan was part of the Graigue-Ballycallan team that won the AIB Leinster intermediate club title and that came up just short to Charleville in the All-Ireland semi-final. Brennan, currently in charge of Laois, hasn’t ruled out playing in the senior ranks in 2019 and Hickey may do likewise at the intermediate grade despite turning 38 before Christmas.
“The way I look at it, if you’re still enjoying it and if you like going training, you’ll do it but I know full-back can be an unforgiving place to play too,” he said. “When my time was done with Kilkenny I knew that was it so we’ll get this one out of the way and think about it then.”