Hurling Hands: Paul Flynn - 'I played against Limerick with an infection and a broken thumb'

"I pulled off the glove and my finger was all bent out of shape. Tony Sheridan, who went on to play for Coventry, came over: ‘That’s not broke.’ He caught it and yanked it into some kind of shape, and I ended up being able to play the game."
Hurling Hands: Paul Flynn - 'I played against Limerick with an infection and a broken thumb'
"I played most of my career with just two hurleys, and they’re probably not the best-looking sticks you ever saw," says former Waterford hurler Paul Flynn. Picture: Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE
"I played most of my career with just two hurleys, and they’re probably not the best-looking sticks you ever saw," says former Waterford hurler Paul Flynn. Picture: Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

My hands? They’re beautiful, there’s very little wrong with them!

I injured my left index finger but it wasn’t in a hurling game. It was 1990 and I was playing a lot of soccer, and I was in the mix for an Irish underage team as a goalkeeper.

There was a friendly in Easter Road in Edinburgh, and I got the nod for it. I flew over and trained that day before the game itself, and I caught a football but it drove my left index finger backwards.

I pulled off the glove and it was all bent out of shape. Tony Sheridan, who went on to play for Coventry, was on the same team, and he came over: ‘That’s not broke.’ He caught it and yanked it into some kind of shape, and I ended up being able to play the game, but that finger is still the most noticeable. To this day I’d get a twinge in it if it’s very cold.

I broke my right index finger in a county championship game in Waterford. We were winning handy and I hit the ball, and a guy came down on my hand, broke the middle of the finger.

It was a typical ‘leave your mark’ slap in the last few minutes. I didn’t start the next game because of it.

Paul Flynn's hurling hands.
Paul Flynn's hurling hands.

In 2007, the replayed All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork, I tried to hook John Gardiner in the first half, but my hurley went past him - my hand was nearly at his shoulder and his hurley came down on my thumb. Broke.

I played the second half and in the All-Ireland semi-final the week after that. It was madness - I played against Limerick with an infection and a broken thumb.

Oh, I did my ankle in that game and ended up being out injured for five months anyway.

Obviously I got slaps and cuts over the years, but those are the worst of it. I didn’t put my hand in too much danger either, and I’m not being smart when I say that - we’d have been encouraging the lads to put the ball in low all the time. If you went back a decade or two from when I played forwards would have had their hands destroyed altogether trying to catch high ball.

The late chop down was what you were looking out for when I played, but you got to know who’d be likely to do it, and you’d protect yourself.

In terms of developing skills, I was a victim of where I lived. Ballygunner was a small village then - it’s a lot bigger now - but at that time there was nothing to do on a Saturday, nothing to do on a Sunday, nothing during the school holidays. Hitting a ball off the wall was as much as there was for entertainment.

I watched Shane Lowry on the television recently and he was saying how it annoys him to be called ‘naturally talented’ because he’s put hours and hours of practice in.

That’s what I was doing from the age of eight to fourteen, hitting the ball all the time. I was able to hit the ball further than the other ten-year-olds so I ended up hitting the frees and sidelines, and it evolved from there.

I’m trying to get my own young lad out to play now and I can see it’s not as exciting for the likes of him compared to Fortnite and so on, but if you spoke to lads from my time I’d say that was a big driver in developing their skills - sheer boredom.

With hurleys, I knew what I liked and I’d be fussy with weight more than anything. I’d shave it to the weight I wanted, but I think the biggest trap you can fall into is loving the way a hurley looks rather than the way it feels.

I played most of my career with just two hurleys, and they’re probably not the best-looking sticks you ever saw, but for balance and feel they were great.

In matches playing for the bank I’d meet the likes of Liam Hodgins and Kevin Broderick, Adrian Ronan, a few of the Tipperary lads, so I saw different styles of hurley and I ended up using Kilkenny style hurleys for a while.

In 1999, Tom Fives, who was a Waterford selector, met up with Jimmy O’Brien, a hurley maker in Tipperary, and I was working in the bank with Rena Beecher, Jim’s sister.

She’s be saying she’d get Jim to make me a hurley and I’d say ‘As if I’d use a Tipperary hurley...’ Sadly she was killed in a car crash not long after. Tom got a hurley from Jimmy for me and we’re good friends now - I’d go up to him and he’d fix hurleys for me.

Waterford's Paul Flynn celebrates his goal against Cork in 2005. Picture by Des Barry
Waterford's Paul Flynn celebrates his goal against Cork in 2005. Picture by Des Barry

Justin McCarthy came in with Waterford in 2002 and he always did a fantastic job when fixing the hurleys. He made them more in the Cork style, with the thick heel.

I remember I got one hurley and it was horrible - the wood was nice but it was heavy and wet, and about a week before the Munster championship in 2002, Justin asked if anyone wanted a hurley fixed.

I said I had one - ‘But it’ll test you,’ I added. He took it away and, in fairness, he turned a plank into a masterpiece. I used that hurley for the rest of my career. From May 2002 until I finished in 2009.

Fellas with great hands... the obvious one is DJ Carey, but there are a few lads I’d go and watch, put it that way. Noel McGrath, Joe Canning, Eoin Kelly of Tipperary.

Austin Gleeson did something in an U21 final in Walsh Park a few years ago for Waterford - he came upfield with the ball and I don’t know if he switched hands with the hurley or with the ball, but he got past a fella and stuck it over the bar, and I still don’t know what exactly he did to get past the other player.

From my own time playing John Troy was another good one - always great control, looked like he was playing the game at the speed he wanted. Real tekkers, as they say.

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