A natural left-hander, Tipperary’swas one of the most feared forwards in the modern game
Before we got married, Elaine and myself went down to Clonmel for our wedding rings. I put my hands on the table in the jewellers’ and the lady said: “Your hands are in very good condition, you’re not a hurler anyway.”
They’re not too bad. I never did any particular exercises to build them up, only pucking the ball off the mother’s wall at home: That strengthened the wrists and forearms.
If I didn’t puck the ball constantly, say over the two or three months of the winter, then when I’d go back in spring my hands would stiffen up and tire much quicker and the calluses on my hands would all be gone. I’d pick the hurley up in springtime and, after 10 minutes, the blisters would start to rise. It’d be a while getting the palms and fingers hard again. I’d feel far more comfortable then.
Nobody ever tried to stop me from using my left hand on top. I remember as a child in Scoil Ailbhe in Thurles and Brother Hickey, who used to train us, made some other lads who were using the left hand on top to change hands. He used to tape their right hands to the top of the hurley.
He never asked me, though, because I was a natural left-hander — I wrote with my left hand — so he probably recognised that.
Was it a help? It could be if you were playing wing-forward. If you’re playing at left-half-forward and your goalkeeper is pucking the ball out, your catching hand is on the sideline side. If the defender is on your left shoulder, which they usually are, they can get caught out, as they expect you to catch with the left. You’d hear that from defenders, a left-hander can be harder to mark on the left wing because his catching hand is on their ‘far’ side.
With hurleys, I looked for balance, not weight . As a forward you might get a longer strike with a heavy hurley, but the quick flick, the quick pick-up around the square, you’d nearly go for something like a wooden spoon to get the ball away quickly.
When I started in 1999, I’d drive down to DJ Daly in Limerick for hurleys. I’d pick three, four, five hurleys from him and then I’d go over to Ramie Dowling in Kilkenny for another three, I’d say. After that, I might go to Jim O’Brien in Drangan to see what he had, or out to Jim Burke in Upperchurch.
When I visited Jim [Burke] he’d say, “Lar, I’ve three or four in the oven there for you, but they’ll take a few months.” I’d say: “No bother.”
The hurley I picked out mightn’t even be as good as the one I already had, but talking to the hurley maker about this hurley, that hurley, the buzz of that, and then coming back in the car I’d have them in the passenger seat and I’d lean over and handle this one, and that one . . . I’d nearly crash the car on the way back because I was paying so much attention to the new hurleys...
When I’d get the hurleys home — without a crash — I’d put new grips on each of them and bring them out. Five minutes with one, pucking against the wall, five minutes with the next, and so on.
I’d mark them there and then — 1, 2, 3, 4 in order, which was best — but I could change my mind later. Plus, when it rained, I’d bring them out to try them to see which had the best touch in the rain, pucking against the wall again. You’d have to understand the hurley, though that probably sounds strange.
But after a few years I changed and decided I’d never again have a no. 1 hurley, because I found myself minding them. And if you’re minding them you’re holding something back in training or matches, you’re thinking ‘I’ll hold off with the block here, this is my good hurley’. I had to change to a scenario where if one broke I just said ‘give me another one’ and it didn’t matter which one.
And then what happened was I’d bring the hurley I was least happy with training, to save the others, but through training over and over with it that became my favourite hurley.
As for injuries, I was lucky. Nothing major. I look like I have a fifth knuckle on one hand, whatever happened to it, but the odd time I’d get a touch on that and it’d be sore for a month, so I wore a glove for a while on that.
Apart from that no broken fingers, no bad cuts. I was very lucky.