Hurling Hands: Daithi Regan - 'I had five hurleys and I intended using every one. Back then the more hurleys you broke, the better'

The Offaly and Birr star played when the centre-forward's job was to flake.
Hurling Hands: Daithi Regan - 'I had five hurleys and I intended using every one. Back then the more hurleys you broke, the better'
Offaly's Daithi Regan in action against Liam Burke of Offaly. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Offaly's Daithi Regan in action against Liam Burke of Offaly. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

I broke all the fingers on both hands.

But it was a different game then, and I was doing a different job, one you don't really see now — I was a big awkward fella playing centre-forward, and the name of the game was ‘puck it down the middle on the centre-forward’. Your job was to flake and move it on to the lads inside.

I’d have been marking the likes of Pat O’Neill of Kilkenny, Liam Dunne from Wexford, Tony Keady of Galway — the Lord have mercy on him — Seanie McMahon from Clare, Mike Houlihan from Limerick.

To be honest, when a ball was dropping it could be hairy stuff, and at club level it could be hairier again. Timber flying, but people loved to see that.

I was marking Tony (Keady) one night at a pitch opening in Lusmagh, and 10 minutes into the second half the referee, Pat O’Connor, called us over.

"Ye both have to go to work tomorrow," he said. "Stop pulling the way ye’re pulling." It was crazy stuff.

In 1994, I had a finger badly broken in a drawn Leinster club game against Oulart-the-Ballagh. Badly. But I still played the following week in the replay. I was given one potion to drink for the injury, and another potion to immerse the hand in, and I did that for the week leading to the replay.

The day before the game, though, I literally couldn't grip the hurley. There was a puck-around the day before the game but I didn’t even hit the ball. I just went home and said to my father, ‘Not at all, no way am I playing.’ The following morning he dropped me down to get the bus with the team. I was just going to watch the game. Padraig Horan was the manager and he said, ‘What are you doing, where’s your gear?’ I told him I couldn’t swing the hurley and he said I could swing one-handed: they could put me in full-forward.

And I said, ‘Okay’.

Back with me to the car and my father brought me back home to get my gear. When we were going back down, though, he said to me, ‘I’m telling you one thing, don’t get an injection into your finger’.

Off we went and of course I got an injection into my finger. They strapped the hurley to my hand and we went out onto the field. Frances Daly was with Birr and she threw me a ball and said to put it over the bar — and I did, from 40 yards.

I turned around and said there was nothing wrong with me — she threw me another ball to hit off the other side, and as I did I winced: I went over on my ankle and tore ligaments.

So as the national anthem was played I was getting an injection into the ankle as well. I limped up to full-forward, we won the match and I never pulled on as much ball.

Afterwards I went straight home and the pain in the finger was unbelievable.

That was done then, though. I remember playing a colleges game ten days after getting pins inserted in another break.

Hurleys? I was unbelievably picky.

I hurled with Faughs in Dublin in the late eighties, and Billy Walsh, who was a great Kilkenny hurler, was involved with them. He said to me, ‘Call around to the house and I’ll pull you out a good one.’ I noticed the Dowling’s hurleys were good and at the time I was a rep covering the southeast, so I made a point of calling in to them in Kilkenny to introduce myself.

You'd go in, through the tin door, chat about the games . . . we had a big rivalry with Kilkenny at the time but it wasn’t just Kilkenny. When you went in you’d see the names on the hurleys: Eoin Kelly. John Leahy.

I dealt with Brian (Dowling) but you’d drop in to Raymie (Dowling) in the kitchen for a chat. It was a bit like ordering grub — you’d ring and say ‘would you put five on for me?’ and they’d say ‘give it a couple of weeks’.

Then you’d go down, chat, collect them, then go home and put linseed on them, hang them in the shed . . . it was always so important, that part of it.

I brought five hurleys to every game. We played Kilkenny in Leinster in 1995 and Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh came into the dressing room before the game. He pointed out that I had five hurleys, and I told him I intended using every one of them.

And back then the more hurleys you broke, the more you'd be deemed to have had a good game.

I had my first name on my hurleys, with a line drawn under it, and a number — in Roman numerals, I, II and so on. Two plates on it, always, and a particular type of grip. At the base I’d always use tape — black, navy, black, in that order, on all of them.

Before a big game I’d have them in the bedroom with my gear.

Having them and knowing they were right . . . knowing that if you broke a hurley, then what would be thrown out to you wasn’t something strange, something different — that was a big comfort. Your mind wouldn’t be thrown, which would happen if you got a replacement you weren’t used to. That helped.

Of course, there were fellas who had a different outlook. Even then, at inter-county level, Offaly would have a bag of hurleys in the dressing-room, and Johnny Pilkington would come in and just pick one out before the game.

I was different. I was totally anal about my hurleys. Totally. Tommy Walsh talked about getting a hurley on a Friday and playing an All-Ireland final on a Sunday with it. I couldn’t imagine that.

Hands? John Troy. Oh my God.

I play golf with him — and Michael Duignan and the Dooleys — and his hands, even in golf . . . when we were hurling it was unusual to see a guy use his wrists the way he could against a player who might have been quicker than him.

John could flick a ball, or move a ball 50 yards with an overhead strike — he didn’t pull to break the ball past a man, as I would, he’d just flick the wrists and send the ball travelling.

He got a goal against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final of 1994, off the ground, but the following year against Kilkenny he hit a point.

There was a downpour the same day, heavy ground, heavy ball, and someone tried to flick the ball onto him but it landed slightly behind him.

As he was moving forward, he slapped the ball one-handed to move it ahead of him, and then he took two steps and from about 20 yards out, he pulled and put it straight off the ground over the bar.

Now he didn’t cut it. He didn’t get under the ball and cut it like a sideline, he was upright but he pulled so pure that it went over.

Brian Whelehan is probably our greatest ever player in Offaly and he had wonderful hands, but for pure genius hands, Troy could do anything. Move to a moving ball and change the direction, or hit a point from 70 yards with the hurley held halfway.

I remember Eamon Cregan saying that if Troy had speed he’d have been the greatest hurler of all time, which was an extraordinary comment from someone who’d seen them all.

But Nicky English, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, I’ve heard them all singing Troy’s praises.

And in golf he’s just the same!

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