Hurling Hands: Nicky English - ‘I nearly had to declare an amnesty to get that hurley brought back’

All-Ireland winning Tipperary legend Nicky English on discovering his perfect hurley in a fertiliser bag and a recurring dream about returning to a Tipperary dressing room.

Hurling Hands: Nicky English - ‘I nearly had to declare an amnesty to get that hurley brought back’

All-Ireland winning Tipperary legend Nicky English on discovering his perfect hurley in a fertiliser bag and a recurring dream about returning to a Tipperary dressing room.

I got a few belts, certainly — I think at that time there was a lot more of what you might call ‘unscripted’ play, in terms of pulling on the ball and so on.

It was a lot less predictable, what a fella might do. He could pick the ball or let fly, you wouldn’t know.

I broke a thumb and I also got a couple of bad finger injuries that weren’t breaks but bad cuts with plenty of blood and stitches.

Those often came in the National League on cold wet days where you’d get the finger cut open in the first five minutes...

I know Johnny Callinan said (in this series) that you don’t see as many finger injuries these days and I wonder if that’s part of it, the fact the game is more ‘scripted’ now, if you like. Nowadays you know that the majority of times a player will try to handle the ball rather than pull on it.

And of course, it was a time when corner-backs mightn’t have been as particular where they were pulling.

For some of them a good first touch wasn’t top of their list of priorities.

In terms of hurleys, generally mine would have been a bit shorter than the norm. When I was starting out with the Tipp minors I went to John Joe O’Brien in Cahir — a very nice man — for some hurleys, but at that stage they weren’t all exactly the same or anything. Again, it’s different nowadays, they’re all made to a template for a player but that wasn’t the case back then.

When I was teaching in the Abbey in Tipperary and involved with school teams, I remember one day bringing in a bag of hurleys — in the 10-10-20 fertiliser bag, the usual transport for hurleys — and I just pulled one of them out of the bag at random. “That’s a beautiful hurley,” I was thinking.

For whatever reason I said I’d take it the following day, but when I went looking for it it was gone. Some young lad had taken it and probably didn’t want to own up to taking it, so I nearly had to declare an amnesty to get that hurley brought back.

This was 1986, and when I got it I used that hurley from then on — in the Munster final of 1987, the All-Ireland finals of 1989 and 1991.

I never knew who owned it, who made it or anything.

It was well looked after — Noel Ryan in Thurles was the hurley maker, and he called the hurley ‘number one’. It was minded.

It gave up the ghost in the early nineties. Like myself. You can quote me on that!

When it went, though, I went onto the Star hurleys, from Dowling’s in Kilkenny. One of the Tipp lads had one of those — it wasn’t the usual Kilkenny model, and I used one of those from there on. They were fantastic, but one of them was stolen out of the boot of my car in Dublin — there were a lot of hurleys in the boot but that was the one taken. It must have been a thief who knew his hurleys!

The very last one I had I broke in the Munster final against Limerick in Cork, which was also my last match. Because of that the very last hurley I used for Tipperary wasn’t a great hurley.

On that, I don’t know where people get their dreams from, but I wonder if it’s connected to a recurring dream that I have. It’s never about the Leaving Cert or public speaking or the other things people dream about, it’s to do with going back to playing hurling for Tipperary.

In the dream I’m older than the other players, but I have everything — the jersey, the boots, the whole lot — only that when push comes to shove I don’t have a hurley.

In the dream I have to ask for the loan of a hurley, and it’s embarrassing, going around the dressing-room asking fellas. I don’t know where the origins of that are, only that it might be that last Munster final, when I was looking down at the hurley I finished with and I knew it wasn’t that good. In terms of players I admire, and admired, my hero growing up was Jimmy Barry-Murphy. No doubt about that.

Nowadays? The greatest player I have seen is TJ Reid. The way he strikes the frees... they’re nearly three feet over the black spot no matter where he takes them from.

If there was a penalty and my life depended on it, Patrick Horgan might be worth a mention but I think I’d still go for TJ. The way he can get the ball into his hand, the work he does... he has to do it everywhere. Take line balls, win puck-outs, the whole lot.

In fairness, he has more support now with Kilkenny, but for a couple of years there he was only short of going back to take the puck-outs.

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