I got quite a few broken bones, here and there, but, in those days, you’d play on most of the time. I remember playing a club game with Patrickswell, one time, and I broke my collarbone, not to mind my finger, and I was sent into corner-forward.
‘He’ll still have to keep an eye on you; you’ll free up someone else,’ that was the logic. Where was the health and safety then?
I was back playing three weeks later, after that, well-strapped-up, but, now, players are out for eight weeks no matter what the injury.
Any hurler playing must surely have broken a bone at some point, but I can remember lads strapping two fingers together to keep playing. When you pull now and the referee even hears the sound of contact between two hurleys, it’s nearly an automatic yellow card. A few years ago, Patrick Horgan was sent off, playing for Cork against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds, for just pulling on the ball; there was nothing vicious about it at all.
I never did anything specific to strengthen my hands, but I started out as a welder-fitter in a steelworks, so your hands get strong anyway, from that kind of work. Towards the end of my career, the protective gloves came in, but I never went down that road. I’d agree with a lot of lads who don’t like the look of it: I know it helps them, but it looks to me as though it’s interfering with your hand.
I tried it one day, just to see what it was like, and I didn’t think you got the same grab on the ball; that it was bouncing out of your hand a bit, as if you had a bandage across your hand; you just didn’t have the same feel for the ball.
In terms of hurleys, I went to one guy all the time, DJ Daly, in Pallaskenry, here in Limerick. I always went to him. I’d go down to his factory and he’d make them to suit me.
That time, there was no playing with a 32. I always played with a 36, but, being honest, I probably had two different types of hurley. If I was playing nearer goal, I’d play with a slightly lighter hurley, and a slightly heavier one if I was playing further out the field. If I was near goal, my thinking was I didn’t have to hit the ball as far, so a light hurley and a tidy swing was a help; you wouldn’t be hooked as easily. The opposite was the case if I were out the field.
I didn’t have a favourite, but I’d go down around January to DJ and pick out six, then make sure the six were almost the same. There was a stage my brother was on the panel with me and I broke three of my hurleys: he was on the line throwing them out to me, because he used mine as well.
They’re not broken as often now, because there’s not as much pulling on the ball: simple as that. I’d advise my young lads to catch the ball, because there’s no pulling: fellas don’t want to risk it, because if they’re a fraction late, then they could get sent off.
There was a time that’d happen a few times in a game, without being malicious, and referees should be able to tell when a player’s mistimed a pull and when he’s meant to hit someone.
From my time playing, DJ Carey was the pick of most of them. His hands were so good, he could hand pass it 30 yards to a teammate, never mind puck it. Tony O’Sullivan had exceptional hands.
Nowadays? There’s only one man: Cian Lynch. There’s nobody else! Cian is exceptional, though. When I was over Patrickswell, we were training one night and someone hit the ball to him, and he just caught it with his left hand; the wrong hand, if you like. And he was running at the time.
To this day, my younger son, who was there that night, talks about it. Everyone just looked at each other; it was so natural to him. People saw him flick the ball up to himself in a match recently, and that’s no accident. We see it here all the time.
Every county has them. To me, John McGrath of Tipperary has unbelievable hands: he’s some talent. I was involved with him in the Fitzgibbon, and what he does up close is incredible. Tony Kelly, of Clare, the same.
Interview: Michael Moynihan