The significance of Brian Hurley being named at full-forward on the Cork team for this evening’s fixture below in the park? It will be his first Munster final start since the summer of 2015.
And given what the 27-year-old was forced to endure during the interim four years, having to overcome setback after setback, torn hamstring after torn hamstring, he is to be commended for being anywhere near an inter-county set-up, never mind holding down a starting berth for a provincial decider.
For those not completely au fait with the early chapters of Brian Hurley’s hard luck story, here’s the abridged version: During an in-house Cork game at CIT in June of 2016, Hurley, having snapped up possession, went to take on two defenders, slipped, and ripped the hamstring straight off the bone.
The necessary surgery took place, the necessary rehab was done, with the Abco Kovex sales rep returning to action in the spring of 2017. There followed, however, further misfortune, further agony.
On March 12 of that year, the Castlehaven forward suffered a second serious hamstring injury when lining out in a club fixture against Ballingeary. Although initially advised against another operation due to the poor condition of the hamstring and the potential for long-term damage, Professor Fares Haddad — the same consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon who previously operated on Paul O’Connell — informed Hurley there was enough muscle to work with and so he was willing to operate.
His brief cameo at the end of last year’s Munster semi-final against Tipperary was his first inter-county appearance in 24 months. The two goals he bagged at Limerick’s expense in the Munster semi-final earlier this month was the first time he’d found the net in a championship fixture since August of 2014.
No question but there’ll be none more thankful to be walking behind the band this evening than Brian Hurley.
“It’s a lonely place, where I was, especially when you’re told you won’t play at this level again,” said Hurley, casting his mind back to those dark and difficult days. “But if you believe in something, I always maintain, and you work hard enough, anything is possible.”
He needed to hold tight to this attitude when having his leg brace removed after the second operation. His left leg, such was the muscle wastage, had shrunk to one-third the size of his right leg.
There were occasions, he admits, when it was hard to keep the creeping doubt and uncertainty from the door. Where he mined the necessary motivation was from those who cast him as yesterday’s man.
“I came out of a 90-degree brace after eight weeks and my leg was about a third of the size of my right leg so it was frightening, to be honest with you. I won’t lie, I had a lot of lows, but you have them on comebacks.
"Speak to any other player out there that’s been through similar injuries, they have them too, but it’s the willingness of people telling you, ‘he won’t make it back’ or whatnot that drives me on. I love that. I actually live off that stuff, like, fellas telling you that he’s done or he’s finished and all this.
“If you look at anything out there in sports, look at Anthony Joshua and the Ruiz fight, no one saw that coming.
But if you trust fully in the fellas around you, your medical team, and your training set-up, then anything is possible.
Introduced as a half-time substitute in last year’s 17-point Munster final hammering, what was just his second inter-county game following surgery number two, Hurley knew, physically, he wasn’t at his peak. Four goals, mind you, in Cork’s two most recent outings would suggest he’s within touching distance of the form that earned him an All-Star nomination in 2014.
“Mentally, I was 120% there in last year’s Munster final, but if I was being honest, physically, I probably wasn’t. My head was thinking differently to my body. My body wasn’t capable. It’s fairly hard to explain.
“You’re in good shape but your body is not moving as it should be. That killer instinct, that ridiculous sharp speed, it just wasn’t there, but I’m feeling it back this year. I’m not saying I’m where I want to be yet, but I’m certainly hopeful that there’s a big game on the way.”
The implications of those two hamstring tears is that he needs to mind himself more than most. If that means removing himself from a training session, even though it won’t help his chances of nailing down a starting berth in the short-term, then so be it.
“My body feels a bit older than I am. I need to do more on my hamstring to make sure my muscle is kept up and takes the pressure off the hamstring but you don’t want to overdo it.
“Inter-county fitness now is gone through the roof. Training’s gone through the roof. For a fella that’s after two hamstrings off the bone, it’s kind of hard to keep up with, at times, but you’ve no other choice. Some nights, you might have to hit the gym instead of doing a pitch session, but yeah, the hardest challenge is pulling out of a training when you’re trying to get the most out of yourself. It’s beneficial, though, because you might be able to perform better the next night.”