Hurling Hands - Pat Fox: ‘I probably dished out a bit of punishment myself’

My hands are quite okay, but I have fingers which are bent out of shape because of damaged sinews
Hurling Hands - Pat Fox: ‘I probably dished out a bit of punishment myself’

Tipperary hurling legend Pat Fox in 1989. Picture: INPHO/James Meehan

Pat Fox, Eire Og Annacarty and Tipperary.

My hands are quite okay, but I have fingers which are bent out of shape because of damaged sinews.

I’ve one very badly bent, the top of it is nearly at 90 degrees because I tried to catch a ball and missed getting the catch just right — that happened to about four of my fingers, the ball hitting them wrong when I was trying to catch it, and the sinews in the fingers were affected.

I’d go to the doctor back then and the advice was usually along the lines of tying an ice cream stick to both sides of it and hoping it would straighten. The small finger on my right hand never straightened, though, and I've a bit of a bend in a couple of others.

But I'm lucky enough, I think, in that I don’t have arthritis. I broke bones across the backs of my hands a good few times, from lovely corner-backs for the most part.

Of course, I served my time as a corner-back as well for a few years, so I knew a few of the secrets involved, and I probably dished out a bit of punishment myself when I was a corner-back. All of it on the ball, obviously!

You don’t see that kind of punishment dished out as much now, but back then there was probably a lot more pulling on the ball, especially overhead pulling. That was a much bigger part of the game, while now it’s more about catching the ball and giving off short passes. You don’t have the ball sent in long on top of the full-forward line as much as it used to be.

Because of that, you don’t have that situation as much, where a fella is standing behind the forward and lashing as hard as he can on a dropping ball. That day is completely gone, so you don’t see that same number of fellas going off in every game.

Johnny Callinan said in this series there was a time at least one player, almost, would go off in every championship with a broken hand, but it's rare enough you see that now.

When I started off club hurling in West Tipperary fellas weren’t that particular at times how they pulled on the ball, in comparison — they pulled backwards and forwards and all directions.

Pat Fox's Hurling Hands
Pat Fox's Hurling Hands

My biggest problems, oddly enough, weren’t the breaks. If I broke a finger I knew I was out for a few weeks, and that was grand, but I often sprained my thumbs ahead of championship games, and I’d blame my boots for that.

The reason? I wore multi-studded boots —  I hated the other ones — and I’d end up slipping a lot in games. And when I'd slip on hard ground, I'd automatically shoot the hand out to save my fall, and I’d end up hurting my thumb.

You instinctively put the hand out and bang, it's gone. You can play away and train away with a sprained thumb, but it’s not ideal —if you don't have power and control in your thumb, you’re in trouble.

Myself and Nicky (English) were roommates for years with Tipperary and we’d always be talking hurleys, but I think inter-county hurlers would be nuts on their hurleys anyway.

Early on, I went JJ O’Brien in Cahir for my hurleys, an older man, and he used to make a lovely light hurley, whatever he did with the timber — he probably seasoned it for a long time — and I liked his hurleys a lot.

He was the man I went to most but he retired out of it and his son made hurleys. I went to him for a while but then one evening in training with Tipperary I picked up a hurley and asked where it had come from.

It was Phil Bourke in Upperchurch, so I went to him for the latter part of my playing career — I changed to his hurleys because he seasoned the timber in water and whether it was because of the way he stored them or what, they were slightly more springy and lasted a while.

That was a big thing, because a drier hurley could be inclined to break more easily, so I changed over to Phil’s.

Fellas I’d admire? We all adored what Eoin Kelly could do as a hurler, and in latter days what Bubbles (John O’Dwyer) can do is fantastic.

Eoin is probably the best I’ve ever seen, though Bubbles has nearly outshone him in latter years, some of the things he’s been able to do.

I can’t leave out Noel McGrath either for pure skills, for great hands, but I don't know if we’ve seen better than Eoin and Bubbles in my lifetime. I know the new ball is lighter and travels further, but the distance they can hit the ball is unreal.

Joe Canning has a fantastic crack off the ball, he can hit it a mile, but for two handy-sized lads, Eoin and Bubbles are hard to beat. Skills, the power in their wrists, it’s unbelievable.

Interview by Michael Moynihan

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