Hurling Hands: Jamesie O’Connor - 'Liam Doyle had unbelievable hands. Doyle was a hurling man’s hurler'

"I went through a phase where I’d dislocate the very top of the fourth finger on my catching hand, just taking the eye off the ball."
Hurling Hands: Jamesie O’Connor - 'Liam Doyle had unbelievable hands. Doyle was a hurling man’s hurler'

Jamesie O’Connor of Clare holding off Offaly’s Kevin Martin. Photo: INPHO/Andrew Paton
Jamesie O’Connor of Clare holding off Offaly’s Kevin Martin. Photo: INPHO/Andrew Paton

I got a lot of superficial stuff, cuts and so on. I fractured and dislocated the middle finger on my catching hand in a club game around 1989. It was sore at the time and it still goes in a different direction, but I went through a phase where I’d dislocate the very top of the fourth finger on my catching hand, just taking the eye off the ball, and the ligaments there were a bit shot. I’d wear a golf glove at times just because it felt a bit tighter and the finger was less likely to pop out.

I broke my arm in 1999, that was the only bad injury I got, against Tipperary in the Munster semi-final replay. I played on for a few minutes but I signalled to the lads and they brought me off. Because it was a replay our doctor, Padraig Quinn, was away on holidays, and the Tipperary doctor looked at it and thought I was in trouble.

Up I went to the Regional in Cork in the ambulance, and they showed me the x-ray: a clean break. My head dropped because the Munster final, a couple of weeks away, was definitely gone.

They operated that evening and the following morning Gerald McCarthy dropped in to see me. I think his mother was in hospital and he came over, which was a nice gesture. He didn’t have to do that. He chatted to me for a bit and left the newspapers there for me to read.

The Lohans and Seanie McMahon came up to see me then - the team had stayed over in Cork - and after a couple of pleasantries the three of them settled in to read the papers - sound, lads!

I was walking away in 2004 but Anthony Daly came in as manager and I couldn’t say no to him, having soldiered with him for so long. We played Cork in a challenge a couple of weeks before our first Munster championship game, against Waterford, and I got a bad belt on the hand - I ended up getting stitches on the nail bed, but it was an in and out job with local anaesthetic.

The game has changed since, of course. The All-Ireland semi-final and final from 1995 were shown recently again on TV and because it was the height of the lockdown I’d say every second person in Clare watched them.

It was a different type of hurling. Our backs in 1995, for instance, seemed to launch it as far as they could every time. Fellas were pulling and batting on the ball more than catching it; that happened more towards the end of my time - Kilkenny had very good catchers of the ball in the half-back line in particular.

Now fellas are careful not to give the ball away, and you see far fewer 50-50 balls because players are trying to place it to their teammates’ advantage as far as they can.

Looking back to that time, people might have been critical of how our forwards were going but you’d be saying to the lads at the other end of the field - having the crack - that they’d want to have a long look at what they were serving up to us.

But that was how we trained, that was the game. It seems more frantic, looking back at it now, with more physical contact - yet I couldn’t get over how slight we looked in those 1995 games compared to modern players.

We were obviously very fit but we were doing weights over the winter and then stopped, which meant you lost all those gains. Modern players make gains but they retain those gains and build on them year on year. They’re better conditioned, there’s more analysis and information on nutrition and weight training and it’s more of a lifestyle.

Hurley-wise, I go back to making the Clare U14 panel. Paddy Duggan, who was a great character from Éire Óg, Gerry Arkins, and Bomber Ryan from Broadford were all involved with that team. Paddy picked up my hurley one evening and said ‘where are you going with that?’ Gerry was teaching in Shannon Comprehensive and had a supply of hurleys from the school - they’d be varnished, gripped, hooped, so up to minor I was getting them from him. They were either Daly’s hurleys or from Noel Shanahan in Clarina.

When I sourced them myself I’d go to Noel Shanahan, I’d go and buy five or six at a time. Some of the other lads, they’d have to have a hurley a particular weight or size, but I wouldn’t have been that picky.

It had to have a strike to it - not be that light, it had to have a bit of timber to it, but everyone is different. It’s what feels good in your hand, and I can remember saying to Noel, ‘that’s good but can you take a bit off the bás or the handle’.

Having said that, I felt the same pain as anyone when a good hurley, one you had for a long time and were used to, got broken in a game. Some of my better ones would have been repaired - and repaired and repaired. Gary Ryan in Clarecastle was the go-to man for that in the nineties, and he rescued a good few hurleys that wouldn’t have survived long otherwise.

When I was playing for Clare I marked Liam Doyle a lot, and he had unbelievable hands. Touch, striking - every time he hit the ball it seemed to come out of the middle of the hurley. Frank Lohan would have said to me that a lot of the lads he hurled with in UCC had great time for Doyle, and I could see why: Doyle was a hurling man’s hurler, if you like.

DJ Carey was obviously fantastic - the speed, the skills, and the goals he got. You always felt if he got a goal it was worth a bit more than three points on the scoreboard. I ended up playing on Tony O’Sullivan at one stage and he was a guy I’d have had huge respect for, himself and Joe Cooney. Tommy Dunne, Brian Whelehan and Johnny Dooley; Tony Browne and Ken McGrath; Joe Deane and Ben O’Connor; JJ Delaney was probably the best pure defender I saw playing, but Brian Lohan and Seanie McMahon were unbelievable players as well.

That was a fantastic era, but I think if you asked anyone from that period they’d say DJ had that X-factor.

Interview: Michael Moynihan

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