Hurling Hands: Tommy Walsh - I often played in an All-Ireland final with a hurley I got the previous Friday

The best advice I ever got was to forget about weighing my hurleys, says Tommy Walsh.
Hurling Hands: Tommy Walsh - I often played in an All-Ireland final with a hurley I got the previous Friday

The best advice I ever got was to forget about weighing my hurleys, says Tommy Walsh. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
The best advice I ever got was to forget about weighing my hurleys, says Tommy Walsh. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

They’re not too bad, the little finger on my catching hand is the only one that’s a little dodgy.

My right hand was always grand until recently enough, I sprained it playing football earlier this year with the club. Yes, football.

We’re playing football (in Tullaroan) for the last couple of years, we said after getting beaten in the hurling a couple of years that it might be a great way to kickstart the year: in Kilkenny the football gets played early on, January, February, and March, so it would suit us.

We enjoyed it, and we played it this year as well - up to the time I got a sprain, anyway. So maybe football is more dangerous than hurling!

I’d never have done special exercises to build up my hands or anything. I grew up playing hurling, but I only really appreciate that nowadays, looking back.

As an adult or a juvenile player you might train three days a week, for an hour or hour and a half per session. Go back to my own childhood, which isn’t so long ago, and there was only RTÉ One and Two on television, nothing else, so we could have been hurling for three or four hours a day, particularly during the summers or weekends.

And that’s what built up our wrists, our hand-eye co-ordination, all that. Teams practice now with tackling drills and so on, building up fitness, which has to be done, but as kids we were playing three-goals-in or nearly fully-fledged games for three hours, four hours at a time.

It’s like going on holidays, and falling in for a game of table tennis. The first day or two you’re looking at the ball and trying to place it, to get the bat around it, but after a few days it’s natural - bang, bang, bang.

The same with hurling. Before there were official ball walls we all had our own ball walls that we were hitting the sliotar against the whole time - the gable end or, in our case, the little wall in front of the house.

That was hours and hours of pucking, but there was a social aspect to it for us as kids also. Friends and relatives fell in, and that helped build up the skills, the competitiveness.

I can see the difference now with my own youngster. When they’re on their own you have to come up with games and diversions for them, but if there’s a pal around the two of them are gone off to amuse themselves, doing whatever they want.

And it was the same for us, there were a few families near us so it was like having a summer camp every single day. In our own family there were five, depending on the age at the time, but the Breens were near us, with two kids, the Loobys up the road, and my own cousins came out to live near us when I was in third class - another four or five. So we had plenty of people to puck around with.

Also, the roads were grand and quiet. By the age of seven or so we’d be cycling around to meet up with each other, we could drop up and down to each other: we were living in each others’ houses. Nowadays you wouldn’t dream of letting kids that age cycle off on their own.

Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

As a back, I always wanted a light hurley. I’d go to Star Hurleys - Dowling’s in Kilkenny - and Brian Dowling in particular looked after me. When I started to read about other players I picked up on the fact that a lot of them weighed their hurleys, so I started weighing mine, and I’d bring a weighing scales with me.

But after a while Brian said to me, ‘Tommy, you’d be better off judging yourself - you know when you hold it whether a hurley is right or not.’ And that was the best advice I ever got. I forgot all about weighing them. I’d get a 34 inch hurley and once I felt it was right that was it.

Weight is tricky because one hurley might weigh the same as another, but the balance in one might be completely different to the other, and it mightn’t suit you. You’re better off with the feel, going on that.

Having said all that, I often played in an All-Ireland final on with a hurley I got the previous Friday, no problem - once I liked the feel of the stick, and once I was playing in the backs. But as a forward, I’d always have to have four sticks - even during the lockdown I’ve two new sticks and I’ll probably order another couple - but I wouldn’t be too fussy about how it’s dressed and so on.

A template to make the hurleys for Tommy Walsh and Michael Fennelly at Star Hurleys in Jenkinstown. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
A template to make the hurleys for Tommy Walsh and Michael Fennelly at Star Hurleys in Jenkinstown. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Christy Ring’s would be the hands I’d love to borrow, going on the books I’d have read over the years. Going to watch DJ (Carey) in a game was special. I remember as a kid waiting for the Kilkenny People to come out during the week so you could see where the games were on, specifically where Gowran (Carey’s club) were playing.

That’d be the first game you’d go to if you could make it at all, because when he got the ball there was always huge excitement: no matter where he got the ball there was always the chance of a goal. He was definitely the most exciting player I’ve seen.

As for modern players, TJ Reid stands out from having seen him play, having played with him, and having marked him in games and training.

His hands are unbelievable, they reckon he pucks around all day still. His strength is immense and he bought into the gym culture as well, which adds to it - you can’t get around him, and once the ball hits his hand it’s not coming back out until he’s ready.

Highlights? DJ got a fantastic goal against Antrim, into the Nally Stand: he handpassed it out to the wing, first time pull on the return pass to hit the cross bar - and then batted the rebound in before half the people in the ground realised what was happening.

Another evening I remember marking TJ at training with Kilkenny, and the ball dropped on top of us.

I was sick of him catching the ball over me, so for this one I was ready. He catches with his right so I was on that side, and I had a grip of his right hand with my left hand. No way he could catch it.

I was just in front of him as the ball came in, ready to break it - but he stretched the hurley around me with his left hand, flicked the ball over my head as it dropped, did a 360 degree turn and hit it over the bar without catching it.

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