Cork All-Ireland winner Joe Deane on his grip and the art of free-taking.
I was lucky down the years that I never really hurt my hands: I broke my thumb once when I was 19 or 20, before Killeagh played Youghal in the intermediate championship.
I was working in the bank in Youghal that time and was a doubt, but I took off the cast a couple of days beforehand and it was fine. So I can say I never missed a game because of a hand injury.
I dislocated a thumb against Cloyne another time but again, it popped straight back in during the game. It was just scrapes and cuts, that’s all.
Having said that, my game wasn’t about bursting out to field the ball out of the sky - it was more winning the ball out in front, so I got more belts across the head and the face than my hands.
I played left hand on top, but I’m right-handed. I just started with my left hand on top, it just came to me naturally that way. Ray Rochford — Bernard’s dad — tried to change me to right hand on top when I was small, and I did change for a couple of weeks, but I just didn’t stick with it and I kept my left hand on top from then on.
The time to do it is when you’re young enough for it not to make a difference, when you’re seven or eight, but later I never evenconsidered it.
There were advantages. I know from talking to some right-handed defenders that they sometimes found a left-hander difficult; I played in the left corner as well, so I had the left to shield a defender off.
When I started with Cork, Fergal McCormack was another left-hander so there was a bit of balance to the team, too.
The other side of that was if you were on a left-handed defender they could be difficult — they were coming at you from a different side and could get on top of you that bit easier.
With a right-hander, if you got past his right hand then you were gone. There wasn’t as much free-hand tackling then, though there were other kinds of tackling...
The funny thing is now when I do a bit of coaching with small kids, a lot of them start off with their left hand on top because it feels easier. I try to get them to use their strong hand on top, and you can use these grip correctors for the hurley — some of the younger lads we’ve had, we’ve given them those and they’ve changed. Maybe I should have used one of them.
Having the left hand on top didn’t have an impact on my free-taking really — to me it was about finding a style that suited me and sticking to it.
I’d bend down over the ball, go down the hurley with the grip and try to maintain a consistent swing. In practising the frees I’d often break it down into different sequences: I’d just practise rising the ball, getting it to a certain height over and over, for instance. The goalposts you don’t worry about, they take care of themselves. Again, I’d be telling that to kids — find something that you’re comfortable with and stick with it.
When I started I hardly took a free outside the 45 metre line; beyond that I was in trouble. But when I was playing I probably used a hurley that was too big for me. Nowadays I’d definitely use a smaller hurley, because when I was getting to my late teens and breaking in with Cork I’d have been using almost a 36-inch hurley, and when I finished I had a 34. But looking at it nowadays I think the hurleys are definitely smaller.
A guy called Sonny McCarthy used to make hurleys in Killeagh, and when I was small I’d go down to him. The first hurley was always free, I remember. Then I moved on to Liam Walsh of Lisgoold, who’d get used to what you wanted and make a hurley to suit you.
Tommy Seward from Killeagh was a huge help to me with hurleys, because any player will tell you there’s nothing worse than breaking a hurley that you like; Tommy was great to put a hurley back together if it was broken. Finny Treacy and John Sloan were others I would go to for hurleys.
In my time lads like DJ Carey, Tommy Dunne had great hands. Towards the end of my time with Cork Patrick Horgan came in and you could see even at a young age he was a genius — he had fantastic wrists.
Nowadays I like to watch Noel McGrath too, because it just looks effortless — it doesn’t look like he’s flaking the ball even if he’s 80 yards out and on the run. He just flicks and it’s gone. If that was me I’d nearly have to stand still and leather it.
It all goes around, too. I go up to Liam Walsh now with my own kids, and going to get a hurley is always a couple of hours. I know Liam well but no matter who the hurley maker is there’s always a chat. It’s great.