Hurling Hands: Eoin Kelly - ‘I was a hurley-maker’s nightmare’

"I never broke a finger but I did bring a hurling injury with me to the White House once."
Hurling Hands: Eoin Kelly - ‘I was a hurley-maker’s nightmare’

I never broke a finger but I did bring a hurling injury with me to the White House once.

In 2011, I was due to go the States along with Bernard Brogan of Dublin for St Patrick’s Day, an official trip, but the week before in a league game an Offaly player stood on my hand. A stud on his boot went down through my nail and into my finger.

Dr Peter Murchan brought me down to his surgery in Clonmel and how he did it I don’t know, but he lifted the nail, stitched up the finger and put the nail back on. That fingernail still grows normally.

Anyway, I had the hand in a sling on the flight to America but left it off for the trip to the White House. It was fairly throbbing that night, though.

The only other big injury to my hands or arm was in 2005 against Toomevara: I broke the ulna bone in my right arm, a county championship game in Semple Stadium.

I cracked it in a tackle but I played on, and by playing on I displaced the bone, so I had to have a plate inserted in the ulna by Dr Ian Kelly down in Waterford. My game depended on my wrists and my hands, obviously, so after the surgery I minded my arm like a new-born baby: I’d be sitting on the couch with a cushion under it to mind it. No-one left near it.

I was sent up to Ger Hartmann in Limerick, and he looked at the injury, got some stuff to massage it, and worked it as hard as he could for about five minutes to break down the scar tissue. I can remember the sweat pouring out of me when he worked it.

It was a psychological thing for me — an injury like that would make you wonder if your touch would be affected, would your skills be as good, but after the first ball, the first tackle when I went back, it was grand.

Hurleys? I’d often say even in the Tipperary dressing-room now that if you’re lucky, in the 15 or 20 years of your career that you probably get three hurleys that you’re really happy with. I’m talking about hurleys that you’d really love.

When you’re a free-taker you have to be particular about your hurley, and I was a hurley-maker’s nightmare.

Even in my younger days.

I remember going to Dowling’s in Kilkenny one time with a bas from one hurley and a handle from another hurley that I liked, and asking if I could get that as a combination in another hurley. Like Frankenstein’s monster.

Now I think a hurley-maker will recognise an inter-county player will maybe want some different things, in fairness, and Dowling’s was the place I went to most of the time. I went to Jim O’Brien in Tipperary as well but I’d have rambled back to Dowling’s too.

I always got a 34 1/2 inch hurley, with... not even a spring in it, really, but I’d try it out with one hand because I didn’t want a hurley that was too springy, and I didn’t want a dead board either that you wouldn’t get a good strike out of.

I’d put black tape and black grip on it, but one thing I hated was having my name written on the hurley. Why? I don’t know. With Tipperary you’d hand in your spare hurleys and I’d be disgusted when they came back with my name written on it, though obviously the hurley-carrier needed to do that to tell them apart. I’d write my name on the very top where the hurley-maker would put the measurement if I had to put it anywhere on the hurley. But nowhere else.

Weight-wise they were all the same — but I couldn’t tell you what weight that was. If I broke a hurley and the hurley-carrier came on I’d ask him to hang onto the broken parts of the stick in case it could be repaired, though replicating a hurley like that would be very difficult.

In 2004 I got a hurley and it was fantastic. I was in college in Limerick at that time and I’d keep it with the rest of my hurleys in the downstairs bathroom of the house I was in. (It was a small bit of damp in the air there, moisture for the hurleys).

I was in bed one Thursday night and I heard a couple of lads come in after socialising, and the next morning when I got up the hurleys were all gone. Including the nice one. Conor Gleeson was in with Tipperary then, and he was a garda, so I rang him and told him about the disaster to see if he could do anything about it. I never got that hurley back, but it’s one of those top two or three hurleys I mentioned — and it never saw a Championship game. I just hope whoever took it got plenty of scores with it. I still have all my old hurleys out in the shed, the one from 2001 All-Ireland final, the 2010 All-Ireland final... I don’t have to label them as I know them all.

Bubbles (John O’Dwyer) is one player I really admire in terms of skills. One of my last years with Tipp we were doing a drill— four of us about 30 yards apart, striking the ball on to each other on the run — to warm up at the start of the session.

I struck the ball to Bubbles but I put it slightly behind him, and I remember thinking: ‘Damn, the drill is broken down’ but Bubbles — who was going full pelt — just twisted his hand back and snapped the ball behind his back.

In my time playing the artistry of DJ Carey was something you couldn’t replicate. Ken McGrath was another player... he could do things in an inter-county game another player wouldn’t even think of. I remember Lar (Corbett) getting a great point for Tipp against Kilkenny in the 2009 final, going down the Cusack Stand side and lofting, absolutely lofting, the ball over the bar from 60 yards — but the camera wasn’t behind him, so fellas don’t remember it as well. Another fella whose skills were amazing was Declan Ryan. When I went in first with Tipperary I’d be pucking with him and say I put the ball a metre on the wrong side of him — he’d just stick out the hurley, flick the wrist, and kill the ball off the bas back into his other hand.

The Big Dec touch: The fact he was left-handed made it look even more special. The same for my own brother Paul, another ciotog — they look so stylish. The skills on show now are unbelievable, the big difference is that there are so many cameras now every flick is caught on film. Modern players are doing things at pace, and with huge physical challenges, it’s fantastic. It’s true what Christy Ring said: The best players are with us now, and better yet to come.

Interview: Michael Moynihan

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