Hurling hands: Ger Cunningham - 'The worst injury I ever got was when I’d finished playing and involved a lawnmower'

I got the odd fracture, but a lot of dislocations because of catching the ball as a goalkeeper - the ball might wobble as it dropped, land on the very top of your fingertip and jolt the joint out.

Hurling hands: Ger Cunningham - 'The worst injury I ever got was when I’d finished playing and involved a lawnmower'

I got the odd fracture, but a lot of dislocations because of catching the ball as a goalkeeper - the ball might wobble as it dropped, land on the very top of your fingertip and jolt the joint out.

But that wasn’t a big deal, someone would come on and put it back in and carry on.

In terms of finger injuries, I don’t remember anything too serious, fellas coming in to block you down the odd time but nothing serious. Before I played in goal I played out the field, though, and that’s when I got the fractures, for the most part.

The dislocations weren’t anything I ever got hung up on, or was conscious of the next time a ball dropped in. I knew they were part of it, so I didn’t get hung up on the risk of it happening again. If it did, it did.

There weren’t gloves around when I played. I don’t know if I could have played in one - they look strange to me, inflexible, and at times I wonder how lads play with them. I can understand lads who are dentists or who have jobs dependent on their hands using them for protection, it could be because I didn’t grow up wearing one that they look odd to me.

People say I have big hands, but I didn’t do any specific exercises for them. There wasn’t as big a gym culture when I played, of course, but I always liked a big handle on the hurley I used, and a big grip on the handle, which meant there was a lot there to get your hand around.

And I’d have had the hurley in my hand every day, when I was playing. You’d see interviews with Patrick Horgan that he’s in the ball alley every day and I would have been the same. Using a thick hurley over and over again, that’d build your hand strength up naturally because you’re handling it and your hands and fingers get accustomed to it.

In terms of players and skills . . . there were a couple who could depress you as a ‘keeper very quickly because they had the ability to ‘break’ their wrists at the very last second when swinging the hurley to disguise their shot.

When I think of the unbelievable flexibility that requires I always think of Seanie O’Leary.

He had incredible hands. He could disguise his shot and at the last split-second send the ball in a completely different direction to what you expected.

It’s a fantastic gift that you have to work on a lot, but you also have to have the confidence to do it, which Seanie had. He’d make you look like a fool because you’d read his body language, suggesting the shot was going this way and then he’d shoot . . . a guy watching would ask you, ‘why didn’t you save that?’ because it looked so easy if you weren’t reading his shot.

John Fitzgibbon had a different ability, he had great power in his hands, particularly with groundstrokes, but that’s a skill that’s gone from the game.

When we went to Toronto in 1991 with the All-Stars there was a publicity event for the game and I spent an hour trying to hit a baseball that one of the professional baseball players from the Toronto Blue Jays was throwing. Funny enough, that was mostly because of the spin - it wasn’t so much the power, but the way he could move the ball in the air, up and down, it was swerving all over the place.

Anyway, the same day we were there some guy signed a massive contract with the Blue Jays, so there was a photo session, us with baseball bats, him with a hurley.

I was mad to try it because I felt I had a good eye and good co-ordination, so he threw a few half-pace balls.

That was okay, but then I said to send in one at full speed. I hardly moved, let alone hit it, with the speed and the spin he put on it.

That said, he couldn’t hit a ball when he threw it up and just swung a hurley at it, even with nobody near him: each to his own.

The worst injury I ever got was when I’d finished playing, nearly losing the top of my finger in a lawnmower accident.

It was my own stupidity - cutting the grass down in West Cork, I never turned it off, stuck my finger in to find out what was jamming it . . .

I was lucky, the surgeon did a magnificent job to hang onto it.

Interview: Michael Moynihan

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