Hurling Hands: Shane Dowling - 'The first day I picked up a hurley I threw it back at my dad'

My hands are in good shape - some people might think it’s because you’d need to be going into tackles to injure them in the first place, to damage them - but there's not too much gone wrong with them over the years.
Hurling Hands: Shane Dowling - 'The first day I picked up a hurley I threw it back at my dad'
I’d get the lads to make ten hurleys, says Limerick's Shane Dowling, and pick the three or four best ones. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
I’d get the lads to make ten hurleys, says Limerick's Shane Dowling, and pick the three or four best ones. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

My hands are in good shape - some people might think it’s because you’d need to be going into tackles to injure them in the first place, to damage them - but there's not too much gone wrong with them over the years.

I do have one issue with my catching hand - the baby finger dislocates four or five times a year. For some reason, I don’t catch the ball properly the odd time and the finger pops out; I don’t know how to put it back in myself, and it’s something I’d need to learn.

The only time I ever broke a bone in my hand was when I fell out of a tree when I was 12: I remember the date, May 28th, 2005.

A couple of days after that Limerick were playing in the Munster championship and all I remember is asking the doctor would I be able to go to it, but I didn’t get out in time.

I didn’t get surgery on the arm, just plaster of Paris, and when I went back after three weeks it was ‘oh, it’s going well, come back in a couple of weeks’.

But when I went back to get the plaster off they found that the bone hadn’t healed properly so I had surgery: they broke the hand again to get it to heal properly.

I was out injured for a good while recently, so I did no hurling from last September to the start of the lockdown. Before that, I’d have always believed that if I wasn’t hurling for a short period of time that I’d come back to a level that wouldn’t be too far off my best in terms of skills, that regaining fitness would be a bigger issue.

I got some shock when I came back a few weeks ago, though. The first time I went out to do a ball wall session, my hands and wrists got tired very quickly, which was something I thought would never happen.

It set me back, definitely. It doesn’t matter now with the matches being off during the lockdown, but I had to work very hard for a few weeks to get the strength back in my wrists.

The first day I picked up a hurley I think I threw it back at my Dad - I was five or six years of age and had no interest in the game at all; he never forced me, though, and another day he brought me out and I was able to drive the ball further than you’d expect from a six-year-old. It came to me fairly naturally - I didn’t have to do the same amount of work other lads had to do on their touch.

DJ Daly in Pallaskenry is where I go for my hurleys, and it’s his son Pádraig that I deal with. I use a 34½ hurley, it has to have two bands, two grips on each - white tape and black tape. If you saw any hurley I’ve used in the last five or six years, you’d see they’re all identical.

I wouldn’t be one for weighing my hurley and making sure it’s the correct weight, but I’d get the lads to make ten hurleys, and pick the three or four best ones.

The bas would have to be the same shape on each one, that’s important for me - if I fell in love with a hurley and it got broken, I’d make sure I held onto the bas. I’d bring that out to Daly’s and get them to match that when making another hurley for me.

Some people might think it’s strange but I’d often warm-up for a match with one hurley and then play the game with my main hurley. I’m so used to the main one I could pick it up at any stage but if it’s broken I’m at least used to the one that’ll replace it.

And there’s also the fact that if it’s raining, that you’re sparing the good hurley from the rain during the warm-up.

I learned my lesson the hard way. We played Ballygunner in the Munster Club in Waterford back in 2011 and I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been - that’s the only way to put it.

Halfway through the second half, I broke my hurley, when we were seven or eight points down. My Dad was on the line and asked me what hurley I wanted, and I told him to give me Kevin Downes’s hurley - we pucked around so much as kids that I might be some way used to his hurley.

I didn’t bring a spare hurley that day, which was a good lesson for me for the next day - and the days after that.

You go to some houses and there could be a line of twenty hurleys outside the door, but I’d never have more than three or four at a time.

If your hooking technique, your blocking technique, if they’re solid you shouldn’t break hurleys too often. And the game has changed a lot as well, there’s certainly not as much pulling as there would have been.

Skills? Niall Moran came into Ardscoil Rís as a teacher and I’d have always admired his hands, his skills.

The style of hurley he had would be similar enough to what I’d have, as it happens, but I remember him playing in a particular qualifier between Limerick and Wexford, in desperate conditions. At one stage in the game, he did something, touching the ball from the air into his hand, that he was very good at, and that was terrific.

He’s someone you wouldn’t have to do a full article on in this series, by the way - just a photograph of his hands would do the job!

As a young lad watching hurlers, Eoin Kelly of Tipperary always stood out for me. Beautiful wrists - a God of hurling, to be honest. And a great fella as well. When I was a kid we won a cup with Na Piarsaigh and he came down to us to present medals, and when we won the All-Ireland a couple of years ago he texted me. So there you have it - he presented medals to me as a kid and then when I won an All-Ireland he got in touch to congratulate me. A class act.

By Michael Moynihan

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