I’ve had three operations on my hands, but none of them were for broken bones.
One was a cut to my thumb in a game - it got infected. It happened around exam time when I was in college - I’d nearly go 24 hours at a time in the library studying and wouldn’t be eating, so the body kept wearing down because the thumb was destroyed, so I had to go into hospital to get the infection sorted out eventually.
The other two? I snapped a tendon in my right thumb, and I snapped a tendon in my left baby finger, so I had to get them both reattached.
To me having a snapped tendon is worse than a break - with the tendon the whole shape of your hand is gone and you mightn’t have the same control over it even when you’re recovered. My baby finger still doesn’t close properly.
When I was 14, I was dropped off the Clare Tony Forrestal team - and not just the team, I was dropped from the 40-man panel. That made me realise I’d have to work a lot harder than some of the other players, fellas who were classier hurlers than me. But I was happy to put that work in: I was able to compete physically and work on my fitness but I knew I wouldn’t be striking the ball a hundred yards like Patrick Horgan or TJ Reid. I see them do things like that, or Tony Kelly and Jamie Shanahan, or Shane Gleeson in my own club (Cratloe). I see them striking the ball and I’m in awe. If you left me there with the sliotar for a year I wouldn’t be striking the ball that far.
Working on your touch can be tough because you have so many other commitments as an inter-county player - for instance, my hips and hamstrings would be tight enough so I’d try to get in some yoga or pilates to help with those, as well as strength and conditioning work, fitness work . . . And behind it all you have to be confident in your touch, and that needs work all the time.
For instance, last year my shooting was off a bit. Because of the way I play I don’t get a lot of chances in a game, but some years my percentage would be 90 per cent, and sometimes it’s 50 per cent.
Getting past all of that to play in the moment, as they say, can be a challenge - I read Tim Gallwey’s book, The Inner Game of Tennis, and it’s very good on that aspect of sport.
The book describes hitting a tennis ball coming at you at speed, but you don't do that by thinking ‘okay, I’m going to put my hand in this position here and then I’ll do this with the racket there and I’ll return to the ball through this sequence of movements’.
It’s after practicing so much that you’re in the zone and you’re letting your body do what you want it to do.
When you get to that zone on the hurling field . . it’s a very hard place to go but if you can manage it everything flows. You’ve the work done, you’ve got a few good games under your belt, your fitness is right and you just want the ball. You’re not even thinking about it, it’s just happening.
I’m probably super-picky with hurleys. I read the piece with Jamesie (O’Connor), how he spoke about breaking hurleys and getting them fixed constantly, but I’ve been very lucky - I’ve had hurleys that lasted five or six years.
I go to Torpey’s for them though I wouldn’t be one of their greatest customers given how few hurleys I break.
We played Cork in a league game in Pairc Ui Rinn and Tony Kelly came in off the right wing and took a shot - Anthony Nash saved it but the ball popped out to me nicely and I batted it into the net.
But I fell on the hurley, and my left hand landed on the middle of the stick when the bas was planted in the ground, and I snapped it in two.
The other lads were celebrating the goal, but I was devastated. It was the hurley I’d used in the 2013 All-Ireland final and I fired the pieces over to the hurley carrier, but after the game he told me the pieces were gone when he went back. If I could have I’d have tried to put it back together.
Gary Ryan in Clarecastle would fix any hurleys I have a problem with - he’s the wizard. The Clare lads went to him in the nineties and a lot of the current panel go to him still.
In terms of players I’d admire, I’m lucky enough to be from the same club as Conor McGrath - his hurling is top quality in that his striking is top class - he mightn’t be doing anything complicated or fancy a lot of the time but his fundamentals would be perfect. Whatever about his hands, his footwork is outstanding - there might be two players around him and next thing he’d have five yards of space.
In training with Clare, if I puck in twos with Tony (Kelly) I feel like I’m pucking with a fella on another planet. One night I remember pucking high balls down on top of him and he was flicking the ball into his hand without looking, almost.
Jamie Shanahan from Sixmilebridge is another guy with effortless power in his wrists - you’d see him pucking and it looks like he’s passing it 20 yards but the ball travels 80 yards when he’s struck it.