It was a surprise when Seamus Hickey was named in the starting 15 for Limerick in their Munster semi-final win over Tipperary on June 1 after returning from a cruciate injury suffered in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Clare last August.
But it was an even bigger surprise that Murroe-Boher’s finest started at corner-back, a position he hadn’t manned since his stellar season of 2007 when he was named Young Hurler of the Year.
Since his first game back, a challenge against Cork in Charleville in late April when he was brought on as a second-half sub (“as raw as a steak!”), he knew he was getting close. But starting and displacing Stephen Walsh, one of the stars as Limerick won Munster last year? Even Seamus himself was surprised.
“I was, but it’s funny, the conversations I have had in the last few years with managers, selectors, friends, family, even just interested others, is where do I fit in the Limerick team, where can I be the best I can be?” he said.
“I don’t know the answer. I genuinely don’t. It’s funny, I really enjoy playing corner-back. There’s something about it that I rebelled against when I was first put back there in school and in minor. I rebelled against the notion of being a hurler at corner-back. Corner-back is for people like Tom Condon (in the other corner) who can’t hit the ball! Finesse players like me should be further up the field!”
Those final sentences were uttered tongue-in-cheek of course but that it was said at all shows just how comfortable the players on this Limerick panel are with each other. So close in fact that they don’t feel the need to say anything to one another if one takes the place of the other, as in the case of Seamus and Stephen.
“To be honest, there’s no room for me even to feel guilty about it. It’s something that I wanted and I had to go for it.
“Was Stephen disappointed? Of course he was, absolutely. Had he done anything wrong? You could argue, no, he hadn’t. The only thing was I had done right, I was picked there. That’s the dynamic you have amongst a group of lads that are as close as we are. Stephen never for a second would begrudge me that and nor for a second would I begrudge him if he was picked ahead of me. It’s just the type of group we have.”
In that win over Tipperary in Semple Stadium, Seamus more than justified his selection, had the last word in fact, a swashbuckling point from distance that ensured Limerick’s win, 2-18 to 2-16, emphasising the pure hurling ability he spoke of earlier. Having had spells in every other line of the field since 2007 however, it felt good to be back in the corner.
“Your remit is simple. You know what you have to do. Your man is not to score. If he does score he has to earn every single point that he gets and there’s to be no goals conceded. For me, it’s simpler place to be.”
‘Simple’ doesn’t mean it’s a position for simpletons, Seamus himself is a qualified mechanical engineer out of UL. In fact it’s the opposite and carrying out those ‘simple’ tasks outlined above requires multiple talents. A top corner-back needs pace and strength to instantly calculate lines and angles, then have the absolute self-confidence to break for the ball with a perfect first touch and the coolness and intelligence to make the right clearance.
“If you look at the really talented corner-backs going back 10 years — Michael Kavanagh from Kilkenny the specialist, Jackie Tyrrell, who you could argue could play anywhere and was probably the most intimidating corner-back for a man-marking job you could look at, Brian Murphy with Cork — I look at them and I see top-class hurlers who everybody has respect for not because they’re all ‘stopping’ corner-backs, but because they can hurl.”
Another thing they have in common? All play centre-back for their clubs, just like Seamus himself.
“That’s it. Corner-back is a place where you can adapt your style and be successful. I think corner-forward is actually a harder place to play.”
Speaking of which, he’s aware of the Cork threat tomorrow, of one guy in particular – new boy Alan Cadogan.
“I know plenty about Alan. He’s a very, very impressive corner-forward, did serious damage against Waterford. He had space as well to exploit his pace and a fearlessness too. He came on and didn’t give a flying toss if he missed his first three balls because he knew he’d probably get his fourth. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen.”
One very impressive player speaking of another, but who will be celebrating tomorrow?
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