I have knuckles with a lot of lumps on them, but in general my hands are pretty good.
The lads slag me because they think a goalkeeper doesn’t get his hands hurt, that the only time you might get a knock is maybe a flick coming out with the ball. But there are four knuckles with lumps, though apart from that they’re okay.
I wear supports on both wrists when I play, not because I have injuries that require them, but it helps at training, say, when you’re doing a lot of striking. The support just helps with that work. If I were just going out to puck the ball around I wouldn’t need to wear them.
I played outfield for Kanturk when I was younger, but at my own age group — when I was ten I was in goal for the U12s, and so on. I didn’t really get a good grasp of goalkeeping until I was around 13 or 14, at that stage I’d played in goal a few years and had more confidence.
But I had another complication then — at 14 I could hit a puckout properly, but by the time I got to minor I was nearly dropped off the Cork minor panel because my puckout wasn't good enough: I remember one challenge game against Wexford and John Considine (manager) took me off at half-time, basically because my puckouts weren’t good enough — and telling me I’d have to sort them out.
I think when I turned 19, 20 and started gym work, though, that changed and my puckout improved.
The game’s changed totally since then — now you have to have long and short puckouts. Years ago you just got your puckout hurley and hit the ball down the field as far as you could.
Am I picky with hurleys? I’m a nightmare. I’d say any hurley-maker I’ve dealt with would put me in their top two or three difficult customers.
When I was young I’d go to Limerick, where my family is from, but more recently I’ve gone to Fitzgerald’s in Araglin.
And to Ray Dowling, who’s originally from Star Hurleys in Kilkenny but who’s based in Limerick.
And to Aidan Walsh, who’s probably gotten the brunt of my picky approach over the years because we’re friends.
Kevin and the lads in Fitzgerald’s would be very patient, but I’d have had arguments with Ray Dowling over the years. He told me one day leaving his shed, with one particular hurley, that if I was in Star Hurleys with it they wouldn’t let me out of the yard with it — too heavy, too much of a plank, all of that.
For the 2013 All-Ireland final we were to go Dublin on the Saturday, but the night before at 10 o’clock I was in Aidan Walsh’s house, getting him to put a screw through my hurley trying to mind it. Usually my hurley would get broken during the league and I’d have to replace it, but that hurley had gotten me through the whole year and I was desperate to keep it.
I just need a hurley the way I need it. Weighing a hurley is one thing but you soon realise the balance is the important part of the equation. Ash can differ so much — I’ve talked to Patrick Horgan, Aidan (Walsh), and other players about this, and everyone says the same. Two hurleys can weigh the same but the balance can be very different between them. And in fairness, Ray (Dowling) is very good at that, balancing hurleys properly.
I don’t have a length or a weight I want, I just know what I like when I get it, and that kind of hurley can be hard to copy.
A goalkeeper’s hurley is different then again. I’d have a particular shape — it’s nothing radical, but I’ve had it since I was young, and you’re trying to add timber while keeping it lightish.
When Brian Hurley from the Barr’s was involved with Cork he was always trying to get me to go lighter with the hurley, and I was nearly going heavier — he was arguing that I had to move around the goals but I was saying that striking was nearly more important than shot-stopping. He won the argument, though, and I went lighter.
That's more important than you'd think. Years ago a goalkeeper used to have a puckout hurley in the net behind him, but now the game’s too fast — if you went back into the net and took out that different hurley you’d probably miss the opportunity of a puckout.
I don’t have a big bas on the hurley, by the way, and I think Pa and Ger Collins, the other Cork ‘keepers, are the same. You don’t want the bas to catch in the wind, after all.
In terms of dressing the hurley I’ve improved compared to years ago — I gave Ray Dowling my first hurley to copy once and there was almost an entire roll of surgical tape around the top of it. I like a white grip — Patrick Horgan claims he started the white grips, but I think I did.
I always went for two braces — I never liked one brace on the hurley, so it’s either two braces or one. People will probably think I’m over the top, but everyone has different needs with their hurley.
Don’t forget, for instance, an outfield player wouldn’t have time to think about his hurley while a goalkeeper mightn’t touch the ball for two minutes. So he’s just standing there with his hurley in his hands — it has to feel right or else he’s distracted.
Would I have many hurleys around the house? I counted forty-something in my shed at home one day, and then I headed out to my mother’s house and there were another 20 or 30 there.
Looking at players with outstanding skills, it has to be Patrick Horgan. His hands are unbelievable. Making the ball talk isn’t an exaggeration.
I see what he can do at training, obviously, but it’s more than that.
If I’m training with Cork and I’m not happy with a particular shot or touch, I’d often ask him to stay on after the session ends to put ten balls in a particular place to remedy that.
Say I left in a shot over my right shoulder during the session — I’d say to him, ‘can you put ten shots just over my right shoulder’ to work on that. Nine out of ten shots that he’d take — or more — would go exactly where I ask him.
His hands can make the ball do things that other players just can’t do, but people don’t realise the practice he puts into that. I’m not talking about hours of practice: I’m talking about days.
Fellas might say, ‘ah, he has it in his hands’, and they’re right. He does have it in his hands, but he also puts in that time, and when you put that together with his natural ability . ..
Obviously there are plenty of fellas with great skills, but he’s always saying he’ll drop back into goal when he retires to take my place. I wouldn’t put it past him.
Interview: Michael Moynihan